Key Senate Committee Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill | Off Message

Key Senate Committee Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill

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The Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on marijuana legalization. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on marijuana legalization.
A bill that would legalize the sale of marijuana starting in 2018 won a key 4-1 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), a legalization supporter. She acknowledged the bill does not go as far as she would like. It would not, she noted, legalize home growing of marijuana.

The bill would allow Vermont residents to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and for out-of-staters to have a quarter of an ounce. The state would issue permits to up to 30 growers of varying sizes and to 20 to 40 marijuana stores.* Revenue raised would go entirely to drug treatment and prevention, law enforcement and implementation of legalization.

The bill, which still has to clear the Senate's  Finance and Appropriations committees, appears headed for a vote on the Senate floor.

Next week, the Senate Finance Committee will consider how much marijuana should be taxed under the bill. Committee chair Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said other states have a tax of 25 to 37 percent of the product's value. He said his committee will vote the bill out by next Friday.

Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor) cast the lone vote against the bill Friday. She said afterward her main concern is that legalization will encourage more youths to consume the drug.  

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor), who opposes legalization, said he’s agreed not to derail the bill and predicted it will reach the Senate floor for a vote.

“I think it’s going to be a close vote,” Campbell said.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), a legalization supporter who voted for the bill in committee, predicted it would pass, in large part because of its endorsement by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington).  

“The fact that the chair, who a year and a half ago was convinced this wouldn’t happen on his watch, for him to come around is a significant event,” Benning said.

Correction, January 29, 2016: This story originally reported that the bill would allow 10 to 20 growers, as stated in an earlier version of the text. The version that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee allows for up to 30 growers.

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