House leaders confer late Monday on marijuana legislation.
The Vermont House, which has struggled over how to respond to a Senate bill that would legalize marijuana, delayed action late Monday on the issue. But House members appear poised to vote Tuesday on a plan that would decriminalize home cultivation of up to two pot plants.
Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) announced the delay at about 8:30 p.m. Monday, after a day of jockeying and counting votes.
“It’s better to not be debating this at 10 o’clock,” Smith said. “I thought that was not fair to the House members.”
House Democrats have crafted a bill they expect to vote on Tuesday, he said. Though his caucus leaders had been counting votes all day, Smith said he still didn’t know whether the decriminalization measure would pass.
“If it fails, it fails,” he said. “I think we ought to advance the issue.”
Under the plan, cultivation and possession of up to two marijuana plants would no longer be subject to criminal charges starting in July, said Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), lead sponsor of the legislation. Vermont has already decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, though police can issue a civil fine.
Conquest’s proposal would also create a commission to plan for eventual legalization and direct state agencies to increase drug prevention in schools and drugged-driver training among police, he said.
“The commission, to me, is really probably the most important part,” Conquest said.
Unlike a bill the Senate passed earlier this year, the House plan would not create a system to tax and sell marijuana in state-permitted stores. Assistant House Majority Leader Kate Webb (D-Shelburne) said the House clearly did not have the votes to pass that bill.
Webb said she lacked a complete vote count on Conquest’s decriminalization plan because some members were unwilling to say how they would vote until they saw the specifics of the bill.
With the legislative session due to end this week, Tuesday is the last day the House can vote on the bill if it is to have any hope of getting the Senate’s concurrence, said House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford).
It was unclear Monday if the Senate would embrace the House plan, but legalization supporters indicated they would see it as better than nothing.
The House did vote 133-13 Monday for another bill that would make it easier for more Vermonters to qualify for the medical marijuana registry. The legislation, S.14, would change the state’s medical marijuana criteria to allow those with chronic — instead of severe — pain to qualify.
Supporters said the severe pain threshold was difficult for patients to meet, but the change to chronic will allow those with back pain, arthritis and other long-term ailments access to the registry. Those on the registry can legally grow their own or buy marijuana from one of four licensed dispensaries.
The bill would add glaucoma to the list of medical conditions by which a Vermonter can qualify for medical marijuana. It also would reduce, from six to three months, the amount of time a patient needs to have worked with a doctor before the physician can certify that a patient has a qualifying condition.