Well, it sure was an exciting ride watching Senate Bill S.241 make its way through legislature – even though it was beaten at the floor vote with 121-28 in the House, it made it further than some expected and it was the first piece of legislature of its kind. From the beginning we knew there could be trouble when it came to passing this bill through the House – but we all remained hopeful and even though the bill has met its end for this year, it doesn’t mean we won’t see it again at the start of a new year.
“Enjoy your Chardonnay, but say no to cannabis?” asked Rep. Chris Pearson of Burlington before the vote. “That makes no sense.”
In the end, what it seems to have come down to was a mixture of representatives who outright oppose legalization (which is bound to happen) as well as a mixture of people who want legalization, but opposed the Senate’s version of the bill. In most cases, the opposition for S.241 appears to have come from the extreme commercialism that would follow without allowing for home cultivation of any kind – and I can definitely see where those people were coming from. After all, why should anyone face jail and a criminal record for growing a plant? Others simply felt “too rushed” to make a decision and instead voted against the bill.
The second proposal, introduced by the House Ways and Means Committee just a few weeks ago, would have decriminalized the possession and cultivation of up to two plants. Rather than facing a criminal record, individuals caught with or growing cannabis would have to pay a $100 fine. Unfortunately, that bill was rejected as well, but it came a lot closer to passing than S.241 with a 79-70 vote.
After all this, they even considered offering a non-binding referendum to the public in August on the primary ballots – but that too was denied with a 97-51 vote. In the end, it appears that the House was just not ready to come to an agreement on how to move forward with legalization – even though they seem to know it will need to happen sooner or later. Governor Shumlin, who has been talking up the Senate bill and hoped for its passage has expressed how disappointed he is that the House was so overwhelmingly against the Senate bill.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Shumlin said, “The War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition has failed. I want to thank those House members who recognize that and worked to move this issue forward. It is incredibly disappointing, however, that a majority of the House has shown a remarkable disregard for the sentiment of most Vermonters who understand that we must pursue a smarter policy when it comes to marijuana in this state.”
The very last offer put on the table did pass – however, it will have to be approved by the Senate and there are only days left to this year’s legislative session. Sadly, the only things approved by the House during this session were an expansion of a public education campaign aimed at the younger crowd, expanding law enforcement training in order to learn how to better handle drugged driving, as well as establishing a commission that would explore all the issues surrounding the possibility of legalizing in the future.
While this was nowhere near what anyone was hoping for, it was, at least, a good first run for legal marijuana in legislature. Vermont broke the ice with this bill and now Rhode Island is also considering legalizing marijuana through the legislature – and maybe more states will decide to go this route and take control before voters push it on them in the end. This was still a great accomplishment – even if it didn’t pass the first time around.