Marijuana Legalization Bill Is Still Alive, But Lacks Strong Support | Off Message

Marijuana Legalization Bill Is Still Alive, But Lacks Strong Support


  • Luke Eastman
The Vermont legislature’s crossover deadline for bills to emerge from committee came and went Friday with no sign of the House’s long-awaited marijuana legalization bill.

The missed deadline doesn’t mean the bill is dead, though it does indicate a lack of vigorous support in the House.

House and Senate leaders agreed Friday to give the bill a one-week extension to emerge from the House Judiciary Committee while House leaders continue to count floor votes.

 “As long as it’s voted out by next Friday, we’ll take it,” Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said.

The bill would legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot, but would not allow for Colorado-style marijuana
Sen. Dick Sears - FILE
  • File
  • Sen. Dick Sears
stores or lounges. The legislation would result in a law similar to Washington, D.C.’s.

The House Judiciary Committee completed work on the bill weeks ago and had been scheduled to vote it out Wednesday, but abruptly removed that vote from its schedule.

That’s apparently because House leaders couldn’t count on it passing the full House and were reluctant to advance a bill that would fail. As they took stock of where members stood, a fair number declined to commit, sources said.

Earlier in the week, House Judiciary Committee vice chair Chip Conquest (D-Newbury) said of votes among House members, “I know they’re counting them and I know it’s close.”

“We’re making sure we understand where people are on it,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) said Friday.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson - FILE
  • File
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
One reason the House might be having trouble solidifying support is that Johnson herself is not fully behind the bill. “I’m lukewarm,” she said Friday. Asked how she would vote on the bill, she said, “I would lean toward yes.”

Friday morning, her district-mate, Rep. Ben Joseph (D-North Hero) was among those speaking at a press conference against legalization. The former state court judge argued that legalization would lead to increased use, which would lead to more highway deaths.

Sears said that if the House marijuana legalization bill reaches the Senate, he will consider it, but that he continues to favor a full legalization law under which marijuana would be taxed and regulated like alcohol. Last year, the Senate passed a tax-and-regulate bill but the House defeated it.

Asked if he would try to amend the House bill to call for full legalization this year, Sears said, “I’m not ready to say. I’m not interested in putting the House in an extremely difficult position.”

Any marijuana legalization effort that passes the legislature could be opposed by Gov. Phil Scott. The Republican governor has said he wants a roadside marijuana test to be available before legalizing the drug, but such a test does not exist.