In a dramatic turnaround, the House will vote on marijuana legalization after all, House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) said Friday.
The chamber will cast votes on the issue Monday, Smith said, probably on two different proposals. Whether either of them passes is still very much in question.
“People legitimately want to understand what level of support’s out there,” Smith said Friday.
Smith said he expects at least two votes. One will be on a Senate bill that allows sale and possession of marijuana. The other is on a House Ways and Means Committee proposal to legalize home-growing of two marijuana plants.
As presiding officer in the House, Smith doesn’t usually vote, but he said if he did, he would vote against the Senate proposal. “I don’t feel like enough of the regulatory questions are addressed,” Smith said.
On the other hand, he said he would “probably” vote for the House proposal.
Just days earlier, Smith had said he didn’t expect the House to vote on the Senate proposal, despite a move by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) to attach the Senate bill to other pending legislation.
A potential candidate for lieutenant governor, Smith said Friday his reluctance to vote was misinterpreted as a desire to quash legalization. Instead, he said it was his way of acknowledging that the House would defeat the bill.
“I just don’t think that I want that misinterpretation out there anymore,” Smith said. “If people want to vote on it, they’re going to get it.”
“I still think it's a bad idea,” he said. “I have told the advocates that I don’t think a vote is in the long-term interests of the issue. What I’m worried about is if we have a vote this year and it’s negative, that people next year will say, ‘Why bother?’”
Legalization supporters disagreed, instead hailing Monday’s vote as long-awaited good news.
“Maybe by Monday, we’re going to get a vote on the floor to pass it. Who knows?” said Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), a leading advocate of marijuana legalization legislation in the House.
Pearson said of the two votes expected Monday, he would prefer to see the Senate bill pass. That measure, which passed the Senate 17-12, would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana sales in state-permitted stores. It would not allow home-based cultivation of marijuana.
But Pearson said there is likely more support in the House for the other proposal. That one came from the House Ways and Means Committee and would legalize home-growing of up to two plants per household. It would not allow for sale of the drug.
If both efforts fail, Smith said lawmakers are looking at calling for a non-binding referendum on the November ballot asking voters if they support legalization.