House Panel Backs Scaled-Back Marijuana Bill | Off Message

House Panel Backs Scaled-Back Marijuana Bill


  • File: Luke Eastman
A marijuana bill remains alive in the legislature after the House Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 Friday for a significantly scaled-back version.

The vote came after the committee narrowly rejected a proposal to table the legislation entirely.

The bill that passed the committee does not legalize marijuana, as the Senate voted to do, but would establish a study commission to prepare for eventual legalization, said Judiciary Committee vice chair Willem Jewett (D-Ripton).

Committee members who voted for the bill were: chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), Jewett, Barbara Rachelson (D-Burlington), Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington), Chip Conquest (D-Newbury) and Bill Frank (D-Underhill).

Those voting against were: Betty Nuovo (D-Middlebury), Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland), Gary Viens (R-Newport), Vicki Strong (R-Albany) and Marcia Martel (R-Waterford).

The bill, a complete revision of the Senate’s S.241, is expected to go next to the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees.

It’s unclear whether the measure will reach the full House before the legislature adjourns next month. If it passes the House, it would head to a conference committee to negotiate vast differences between the two chambers’ versions.

For legalization supporters, Friday’s vote is a faint victory because it keeps the bill — and the legalization debate — alive. Supporters knew the bill faced tough odds in the House Judiciary Committee.

Because it’s a rewritten Senate bill, rather than a new House bill as had been considered, it won’t have to go through the Senate Rules Committee. That gives the bill one less hurdle.

The House version calls for increased spending on drug prevention education and police training for detecting drugged driving. But Jewett acknowledged that without a source of revenue those portions could run into trouble in the Appropriations Committee.

It would also lower the threshold for drunken driving when marijuana is also detected and would prohibit chemical extraction to make hash oil.

The committee defeated a proposal by Grad to decriminalize home-growing of up to two marijuana plants, also by a 6-5 vote.