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Vermont Senate Sends Marijuana Legalization Bill to Governor

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LUKE EASTMAN
  • Luke Eastman
Updated at 3:26 p.m.

The Vermont Senate voted Wednesday to legalize marijuana in the state, starting in July.

The legislation, which passed the Vermont House last week and won approval in the Senate by a voice vote, now goes to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk. The first-term Republican has said he would sign it into law. That would make Vermont the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana through legislative action, rather than a referendum.

The Senate made quick work of the bill Wednesday afternoon, approving it with virtually no discussion, just minutes after convening for the day. The institution has debated the subject at length in recent years — voting in 2016 and 2017 to legalize the drug.

In brief remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) thanked colleagues who opposed the legislation but nevertheless worked to improve the bill.

Later Wednesday, he characterized the vote as “a step in a process to a more rational system.”

Like many senators, Ashe had hoped to pass more expansive legislation that would have permitted sale and taxation of marijuana. But in a compromise with the House last year, it agreed to a narrower approach: legalizing possession for those 21 and older — and cultivation of up to two mature and four immature pot plants.

Sen. Dick Sears advocates for the legalization of marijuana Wednesday on the floor of the Vermont Senate. - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Sen. Dick Sears advocates for the legalization of marijuana Wednesday on the floor of the Vermont Senate.
Scott vetoed that bill last May, citing concerns about drugged driving and youth use. After legislative leaders agreed to slight revisions, the governor said he would sign it.

Ashe said Wednesday that the Senate still supported a tax-and-regulate system. But, he added, “Despite our best efforts to convince the House and the governor, that just wasn’t going to happen.” He said a second major marijuana reform bill was unlikely this legislative session.

“We’ve had that discussion,” Ashe said. “We spent considerable time in 2016 and 2017 on a tax-and-regulate system. So this year I think it would be pulling us away from things that are much larger priorities.”

During Wednesday’s abbreviated debate, Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) delivered what he called a “history lesson” about the role of hemp in the United States.

Rodgers, who grows hemp on his property in Glover, noted that uniforms worn by soldiers in the American Revolution were made with the fiber.

“Were it not for the historically forgotten and currently disparaged marijuana plant, the Continental Army would have froze to death at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania,” Rodgers said. “Fun fact.”

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.


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