Steps Forward for Marijuana Legalization in Vermont; Legislative Work Remains

The Vermont House and Vermont Senate have differing visions for the legalization of recreational pot

In the final days of the legislative session at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, the subject of legalizing recreational marijuana has once again emerged as a hot topic.

Vermont's two legislative bodies have advanced two very different visions for how the state should proceed with legal marijuana.

The Vermont Senate wants to see commercial grow operations and licensed retailers, which would be regulated and taxed, and would sell only to users 21-and-up. Revenues would fund drug enforcement and education efforts.

The Vermont House of Representatives prefers more homespun rules for now, okaying possession of an ounce of pot as well as a few plants for private use. The House plan, which received final approval late Wednesday afternoon on a 75-71 vote, would not create a regulated system for formal retail sales and taxation.

“It's a waste of taxpayer money to continue to use the criminal justice — the legal system — the police, to go after people who are personally using marijuana,” said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington. “It makes no sense to me.”

With this year’s legislative session expected to wrap up this week, the differences in the two bills likely mean discussions will have to continue in 2018.

The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he could back the House plan if they’re open to eventual marijuana shops.

“If there's a path toward a regulated market from seed to sale,” Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said of his possible support of the House’s vision for marijuana. “There needs to be — to me — a path.”

While many backers point to Massachusetts and Maine’s recent moves toward regulating marijuana sales as another reason Vermont’s time has come, opponents are not convinced.

“I'm old enough to remember my mother saying, ‘If everybody jumped off the bridge, would you?’” observed Rep. Lynn Batchelor, R-Derby Line. “Just because everybody's doing it doesn't mean it's necessarily right.”

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said early this year he would “never say never” on marijuana legalization, but he indicated he does have some big concerns about marijuana legalization. Chief among them, Scott said, is safety on the roads.

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