A last-ditch effort to fully legalize cannabis in Vermont has failed as quickly as it began.
On Friday morning, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 106 to 28 to indefinitely shelve H.167, a bill that had been rewritten as a vehicle for legalizing the commercial sale of marijuana with state oversight and taxation. Earlier this year, the legislature approved — and Gov. Phil Scott signed — a bill permitting personal cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana.
He blamed Statehouse politics for the defeat. "There is plenty of support to legalize," he said, "but sometimes in this building, the powers that be guide legislators to do something that isn't what their constituents want."
The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans voted to shelve the bill. Democratic leadership cited the rush of more pressing business in the remaining days before adjournment.
"There are many, perhaps a majority, who would like to legalize with a tax-and-regulate system," said Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford) in explaining her vote from the House floor. "But it's clear we have more critical decisions to make."
"The bill has not been vetted by the appropriate committees," said Rep. John Bartholomew (D-Hartland). "Time is too short to create a full tax-and-regulate system."
After the vote, House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) asserted that the issue had already been settled. "We had similar votes [on full legalization] and they failed," she said. "We've already had this debate, so why all of a sudden, with two weeks left in the session, bring it back now?"
House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) was one of the 28 votes to keep H.167 alive. He said he is opposed to legalizing cannabis, but if Vermont is legalizing it on a personal level, "It does not make sense for us to not tax and regulate. Having it be legal without regulation and no resources for the associated costs [of legal marijuana] makes no sense to me."
The effort to revive full legalization has been in the works for several weeks, according to Zuckerman. He noted that many Republicans agreed with Turner, and he saw an opening. "I talked to a number of them over the last couple of months," he said. "[Turner] had indicated that he was going to work toward support. He told us [Thursday] night that many in his caucus were going to support keeping the discussion alive."
Zuckerman believed that with substantial Republican and Progressive/liberal support, a majority could be mustered in favor of full legalization.
But Friday morning, that Republican support failed to materialize. Turner expressed disappointment. "I did what I thought I could, working with a lot of people who didn't vote the same way I did, which is a little disappointing," he said.
Turner acknowledged that the original plan was for him to take the central role on the House floor. He was to file a motion Thursday to bring H.167 out of mothballs as a vehicle for tax and regulate. "But once I realized the majority leadership was not going to let it pass, it made no sense to lead the effort," he explained.
In Turner's absence, H.167 was moved by Rep. Diana González (P/D-Winooski). Turner could have been a more effective voice in building a tripartisan coalition, but in the end, House leadership held sway.
No one thinks this was a fatal blow for the concept. "I fully expect this issue to come back to the House next year," said Krowinski. In the meantime, with personal cultivation of marijuana becoming legal in July, Vermont's garden centers will have a whole new market to exploit.