Vermont Still Has a Fighting Chance at Legalizing Marijuana in 2016
Although there has been some concern in recent weeks that the Vermont House of Representatives was on the verge of sabotaging a plan to bring down prohibition across the state, the latest action brought forth by a second House committee reveals that lawmakers may be prepared to fight it out to the death to ensure the passing of sensible pot reform in 2016.
Earlier last week, the House Ways and Means Committee voted 6-to-3 in favor of legislation that would not only allow residents to possess up to an ounce of marijuana without incurring fines outlined under the state’s current decriminalization policy, but it would also give permission to those interested in home cultivation to grow up to two plants.
Although no commercial cultivation or retail sales could happen under this proposal, supporters say it is a step in the right direction because it replaces the concept of capitalism with individual freedom – an angle to the legalization movement that has not yet been explored by any other state.
“Many Vermonters have been very vocal in support of allowing limited home cultivation, and it appears their voices did not fall on deaf ears,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Cannabis Now in a statement. “This amendment breathes new life into S.241. The House is engaged in a very deliberative process, and we’re hopeful it will do the right thing and end marijuana prohibition in Vermont.”
The new House proposal is a huge improvement from the one approved at the beginning of the month by the House Judiciary Committee. That bill, spearheaded by committee Chair Maxine Grad, stripped down the original intentions of S.241, erasing every provision dealing with legalization. Instead, the committee’s vision simply decriminalized the cultivation of two plants and established a task force to study whether a recreational cannabis trade was right for the future of Vermont.
At this juncture, having two competing measures in the House guarantees that a series of negotiations are set to get underway to determine the best course of action for this chamber’s version. Of course, once the House comes up with a palatable proposal, it will have to go back to the Senate, once again, for its approval, which will likely bring about additional changes. But the most important factor to consider with respect to the latest action is that marijuana legalization remains intact and on the table for possible passage in the coming months.
In spite of the fact that the latest plan would prevent Vermont from generating tax revenue from retail sales, Governor Peter Shumlin, who called for lawmakers to end prohibition, earlier this year, during his State of the State address, applauded the efforts of the House.
“I want to thank the House Ways and Means Committee for their work on this legislation,” Shumlin said in a statement. “There is no question that we can and must improve on the current system of marijuana prohibition that is failing us so miserably. The Committee’s action today takes a step towards addressing the nonsensical system that asks the one in eight Vermonters who admit to using marijuana on a monthly basis to buy it from a drug dealer. I believe there is merit as well in the approach taken by the Senate, which goes further towards addressing the many issues that currently exist because of the failed War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition. I appreciate the Committee’s work on this bill and look forward to working with the Legislature to chart a smarter policy on marijuana.”
Interestingly, drug policy experts say Vermont still has a chance at legalizing marijuana in 2016, complete with retail sales and home cultivation.
“The effort to make Vermont the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana by a vote of legislators instead of via a ballot initiative is still very much alive,” wrote Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, in his recent analysis. “And they could succeed in legalizing both marijuana commerce and home cultivation, a scenario that wasn’t seen as likely at the beginning of the legislative session.”
What do you think? Would you rather see legalization via home cultivation or marijuana commerce?