After the successful passage of Senate Bill S.241, which would legalize up to an ounce of marijuana in the state of Vermont, the House of Representatives tore it to shreds. The original bill, which was up for review by the House Judiciary Committee this week, was widely supported both by the citizens of the state, the Senate, and even the Governor, who intended to sign the bill if it made it to his desk.
At first, House Representative Maxine Grad took it upon herself to basically rewrite the entire bill so that it no longer aimed to legalize marijuana. Instead it would expand a current decriminalization law by reducing or waiving certain related fines, allowing cultivation of up to 2 plants in the home and also reducing the alcohol limit to 0.05 instead of 0.08 if the person has also consumed alcohol.
It’s disappointing that even this decriminalization bill didn’t make it through the House – it fell short with a 6-5 vote against the bill. For a short time, it seemed as though this was the end of Senate Bill S.241 – but the bill was saved by Representative Bill Frank, who rewrote the bill once again, dropping the expanded decriminalization policies in exchange for a bill that instead creates a commission to study the eventual legalization of marijuana.
This is definitely not what anyone had been hoping to see – so many of us were hoping Vermont would lead by example and be the first to legalize marijuana through legislature. However, there is good news – the Senate will still have to approve this bill and the two can get together in negotiations – otherwise things could get a little bit heated up for the state lawmakers.
“We have a number of options available to us. There are a number of bills that are very important to the House Judiciary Committee that contain the word marijuana and those bills can certainly have things added to them,” (Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears) he said. “I’m not giving up the ship. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there.”
It’s nice to see that even after having their promising bill basically tossed in the trash and turned into something that barely resembles a shadow of its former self that there is still positivity about the situation. Even the governor is still holding out hope that there will be a legalization bill on his desk before the end of his term.
“The sausage making process of the Legislature is such that there are so many changes so often as a committee struggles to get it right that I’ve found it’s best not to comment on every nuance of the process,” Shumlin said. “I’ve been very forthright about the fact that I think the Senate passed a great bill. I would love to have come to my desk a bill very similar to what the Senate passed.”
The final bill that was passed called for a 7 person committee to be assembled to make a recommendation on marijuana legalization by November of 2017, enhancing education and prevention programs for youth, changing the criminal charge for an ounce of marijuana to a misdemeanor (currently a felony is more than a half ounce), and it kept the changes to blood alcohol level when marijuana is detected.
Considering the Governor was already pleased with the bill and there has already been trips and research done prior to the writing of the Senate bill, I see this more as a delaying tactic than anything myself. Their concerns are the same old worries, ones that can be prevented (such as children getting into it) and ones that have no merit (flat-out believing it’s not safe). Hopefully the Senate will be able to tack on a few things to House bills that will come through – or perhaps they will introduce an entirely new bill – at this point we will just have to wait and see.