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Vermont Pot Legalization Bill May Prohibit Homegrown Marijuana

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Sen. Dick Sears talks at a recent hearing with Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project and lobbyist David Mickenberg. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Sen. Dick Sears talks at a recent hearing with Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project and lobbyist David Mickenberg.
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reached a conclusion Friday afternoon that could significantly alter legislation to legalize marijuana in Vermont. Sears, whose committee expects to vote on a bill Friday, said he won’t support anything that would legalize homegrown marijuana. “It became clear to me that it wasn’t something I can support at this time,” Sears said.

Sears, who holds considerable power in crafting the legislation, said that's based on testimony from officials in Colorado, Washington and Vermont. A Colorado official told the committee that it is difficult to police home growers to keep them within quantity limits and to prevent them from selling.

While Sears’ stance could derail legalization efforts this year, advocates may be willing to go along with him in hopes of keeping legalization alive.

“It’s not going to make every member of our coalition happy, but we’ll support any path forward," said Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), a supporter of legalization and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed. “If he insists on going there, I might very well join him,” Benning said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a bill-killer.”

Simon, whose group launched pro-legalization television ads Monday, said that if homegrown marijuana is not allowed, he hopes a study commission will be directed to consider legalizing it later, along with edible marijuana products. Sears and Gov. Peter Shumlin have said they don't support legalizing edibles until other states work out confusion over appropriate portion sizes.

Colorado allows homegrown marijuana, while Washington state doesn’t, Sears noted. Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, told Sears' committee by phone last week that legalizing homegrown marijuana can create a gray market with growers selling outside the regulated market.

Prohibiting homegrown marijuana causes some to fear that big business would get a foothold in the industry. Sears said he expects any legislation his committee passes to make room for small commercial growers.

After Sears shared his views Friday with the Associated Press, he said, he got a firestorm of negative comments. “It’s been pretty obnoxious,” Sears said. “It’s amazing the number of people who correlate marijuana with tomatoes. They’re not the same. They talk about ‘My right to grow anything in my backyard.’”

Sears said his committee will get into the details this week. “I think there could be a number of those hiccups,” he said.

Another possible disappointment on the horizon for legalization advocates, he said, could be when legalization would take effect.

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark told Sears’ committee that he supports legalization — but not until 2018. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn told the committee that his department would need nine months to prepare. Sears said Monday he hasn’t zeroed in on an exact timeframe. “I think somewhere between nine months and two years,” he said.

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