Legal Pot Bill Clears Key Committee in Vermont House | Off Message

Legal Pot Bill Clears Key Committee in Vermont House


House Judiciary Committee chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), flanked by Reps. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), left, and Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland) in committee Wednesday - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • House Judiciary Committee chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), flanked by Reps. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), left, and Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland) in committee Wednesday
A bill that would legalize marijuana in Vermont is headed to the House floor next week, where leaders expect it will pass.

The House Judiciary Committee voted out the bill, H.170, by an 8-3 vote on Wednesday.

The action was delayed because House leaders feared the bill lacked the votes to pass the full chamber. That appears to have changed in the past few days.

“It sounds like we do have the votes ,” said Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill is similar to a law in Washington, D.C. It would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults, but would not allow sales of the drug in stores or lounges. It would allow Vermonters to possess up to two mature and four immature plants.

Grad, who opposed efforts last year to tax and regulate marijuana as Colorado and several other states do, said she supported this bill because “it’s incremental.”

Some of her concerns about legalization are being addressed, she said, including an increase in the number of police officers trained to detect drugged driving.

She also pointed to a Washington State study that indicated legalization there hasn’t affected youth use of the drug.

Other members of Grad’s committee also turned from opponents of last year’s tax-and-regulate legislation to supporters of this bill.

“This is minimal government intervention,” said Rep. Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland), the only one of four Republicans on the committee who voted for the bill.

Rep. Janssen Willhoit (R-St. Johnsbury) said the bill leaves room for a black market to continue operating, so he could not support it.

Meanwhile, the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project released results of a poll it commissioned indicating that 57 percent of Vermonters support the bill. The poll, conducted this week, also indicated that 54 percent support full legalization, with marijuana taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol.

If the bill passes the House, it will go to the Senate, which last year supported full legalization. Though the bill did not meet the legislature’s crossover deadline last week, House and Senate leaders agreed to give it a week’s reprieve, as Seven Days reported Friday.

If the legislation passes the Senate, it might not receive as warm a welcome from Gov. Phil Scott, who could veto it. Scott has said he wants legalization to wait until there is a roadside marijuana test for drivers, as there is with alcohol.

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