Things are getting a little chaotic at the end of the legislative session in Vermont. The House took a last minute vote last Friday to pass House Bill 170, which aims to legalize marijuana for adults in a way similar to D.C. – where it is legal to possess up to an ounce and cultivate a limited number of plants – but no taxation or regulatory structure for the sale of the herb will be in place. It was a narrow approval with a vote of 74-71, but it was passed nonetheless.
On top of that, at the last minute the Senate decided to revise and pass Senate Bill 22, which was set to create a commission whose sole task would be to explore the possibilities in taxation and regulation of cannabis, to include the language of the H.170. The Senate bill was passed with a 20-9 vote – after already having passed a bill that would have legalized, taxed and regulated cannabis all in one shot, which the House doesn’t agree with.
“You have to give the Senate credit for standing up for Vermont voters, who strongly support making marijuana legal for adults,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Each of the bills will now head to the other chamber for consideration – where both stand a relatively good chance at passing. Unfortunately, there is a chance that this is where things will end for 2017 as the legislative session was supposed to come to a close this past week. However, since they have yet to pass a budget for this year, Congress will be resuming their session on Wednesday in order to pass the budget – and there is a slim chance that they will decide to take up one or both of these bills during the extended session.
There are a number of ways it could go at this point. The Senate could approve H.170 or the House could approve the revised S.22 during this session, effectively making marijuana legal for adults come July 2018. Or, they could send it all back to a joint committee that would work on the finer details (although the revised Senate bill attempts to be a compromise while skipping this step). Of course, the other option is they could simply wait until the 2018 session to pick up either bill again.
For now we will have to wait and see, but the passage of S.22 (which would legalize marijuana in a way a slim majority of the House is comfortable with, while also providing an outlet to explore the possibilities in taxation and regulation of a commercial industry) seems to be the best way to satisfy all parties involved – except those in opposition to legalization, of course.