Senators Plan Renewed Push for Marijuana Legalization | Off Message

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Senators Plan Renewed Push for Marijuana Legalization

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As the 2017 legislative session nears completion, two senators have plans to revive prospects for marijuana legalization.

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) plans to introduce a revised version of a legalization bill that the Senate passed last year to allow for possession and sale of taxed marijuana starting in 2019. While last year's bill easily passed the Senate, it failed in the House.

White's effort would be in an amendment to another Senate bill — H.167 — expected to be up for action on the Senate floor Friday. Her revision would add legalization of homegrown marijuana.

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said he plans to vote for White's amendment. But anticipating that it's unlikely to pass the House, he has another, less ambitious plan. He'll offer up legislation to establish a study committee that would figure out how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana. He plans to present it as an amendment to another bill on the Senate floor next week.

Sen. Dick Sears - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Dick Sears
Sears argued that with Massachusetts and Maine having legalized marijuana through public votes last year, Vermont needs to be ready to respond.

Both White and Sears said they were frustrated that the House has not acted on legalization this year.

"We had fully counted on the House passing H.170," Sears said, referring to the House's pending legalization bill. "We felt like, 'What do we do next?'"

The House Judiciary Committee crafted H.170, which would legalize possession of up to an ounce and a
Sen. Jeanette White - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Jeanette White
llow for cultivation of up to two mature plants and four seedlings. But that bill has not yet made it to the House floor and appears unlikely to as the legislative session nears its early May end.

The bill is pending in the House Human Services Committee, where chair Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) said there are no plans to vote on it this week.

"That's probably as far a prediction as anybody can make," said House Assistant Majority Leader Tristan Toleno (D-Brattleboro).

Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a sponsor of H.170, said she still holds out hope that H.170 will pass the House this year. Grad specifically focused her efforts on eliminating penalties for personal possession and use of marijuana, rather than creating a system to regulate legal marijuana.

As for Sears' plan, she's not excited. "I don't think the next step is a study of tax and regulate," Grad said.

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