Sen. Jeanette White and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe discuss marijuana legalization Tuesday.
As a Vermont House committee continued to hear testimony Tuesday on a bill to legalize marijuana, Senate leaders indicated that the prospects of such legislation passing this year are increasingly slim.
“I don’t know how on Earth we can do anything,” said Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), a leading advocate of legalization.
With the legislative session expected to end in about three weeks, some Senate committees, including Judiciary, are shutting down for the year to focus on budget bills.
Even if the House voted out its legalization bill in the next week, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said its chances of passing in his chamber are virtually nil. “It’s hard to see that happening,” he said.
The bill that the House has debated for three-plus months would legalize possession of up to an ounce but would not allow for sale of the drug.
Democratic leaders continue to work toward solidifying votes for that plan, said House Assistant Majority Leader Tristan Toleno (D-Brattleboro).
The Human Services Committee heard Tuesday from legalization advocates and could vote this week to send the plan — similar to one in place in Washington, D.C. — to the full House. First, Toleno said he must firm up support for a floor vote.
“We’ll know in the next day or two,” he said. “I don’t know if the messaging in the Senate will get in the way of the conversations I’m having.”
But Senate leaders deliberately chose to make it increasingly clear that they don’t consider the House bill a step forward in the march towards legalization.
“I don’t think that’s the baby step to take,” White said. “It does nothing to decrease the black market.”
Senators prefer a full legalization plan under which marijuana could be sold and taxed. In fact, the Senate last year voted for such a plan, but the bill failed in the House.
Ashe said the Senate might consider other options on marijuana legalization this year, including passing something similar to its 2016 proposal. Another option is a bill that would create a commission to implement marijuana legalization.
Whether either of those would fly in the House is questionable.
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure