Vermont: New Bill Proposed To Legalize Recreational Marijuana
By Derrick Stanley
Vermont saw a complicated bill to legalize recreational marijuana fail last year. A new, simpler bill is proposed that would allow possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and allow Vermonters to grow several plants at home.
“The more conservative it is, the more appealing it will be to people outside this room,” said Republican Rep. Tom Burditt, one of the bill’s sponsors at the House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. Burditt voted against last year’s bill.
The former bill, which passed the Vermont Senate, but failed in the House, would have created a commercial market for marijuana in the state, much like the system established in Colorado.
The new bill is much shorter, and would be more like the system in Washington, DC, where there are no provisions for sales but people can possess and grow small amounts of marijuana.
Republican Governor Phil Scott will be the new bill's biggest obstacle. He opposed the bill last year when he was lieutenant governor, and has raised concerns against legalization.
Rebecca Kelley, Scott's spokeswoman, said the Governor wants any marijuana legalization law to address public safety concerns, including law enforcement’s ability to test for impairment and keep roads safe.
“We don’t have a method for roadside testing of marijuana like we do alcohol,” said George Merkel, president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police at a recent committee meeting.
Eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana, though it remains illegal at the federal level. The most recent states to legalize marijuana were Maine, California, Nevada and Massachusetts, a state that shares part of its northern border with Vermont.
“Vermonters can now easily go down to Massachusetts and get it, then they come back and suddenly it’s illegal. That’s not a dichotomy we want to set up,” said Democratic Rep. Chip Conquest, another bill sponsor.
Conquest said prospects for the bill are better than they were last year, and that it's likely to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.
“We have a lot of new members this year and it’s a very different proposal,” Conquest said.