Never Trust a Lawmaker with Pot Legalization—Vermont Bags It

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A majority of elected officials wanted it. The Republican governor wanted it (at least in theory). Certainly, marijuana legalization is what the citizens of Vermont want.

So what? These are American lawmakers we’re talking about. When marijuana legalization is concerned, no elected body of representatives has yet to enact the will of the people. And so it is that legalization in Vermont is dead until 2018 at the earliest, this time thanks to Republicans in the state House of Representatives, who refused to give a compromise legalization bill a hearing on Wednesday night.

As the Burlington Free Press reported, “nearly all 53 House Republicans” voted to refuse to consider the legalization bill… despite approving the similar bill a few weeks before.

This is the latest, final twist in a will-they-won’t-they drama that began in April, when the Vermont state legislature managed to pass a cannabis legalization bill that’s similar in scope to voter-approved recreational marijuana laws in nearby Massachusetts and Maine.

That bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, who nonetheless kept hope alive by saying he was for legalization in theory, but had a few concerns with this bill in particular.

Late last week, a compromise bill with Scott’s recommended revisions—providing specific penalties for people caught giving marijuana to minors or driving under the influence—was thrown together, but Republicans’ move on a party-line vote Wednesday to refuse to consider the compromise bill during a special session was the death knell.

Vermont would have been the ninth state in the country to allow adults 21 and over to possess, cultivate and use up to an ounce of cannabis. According to a Marijuana Policy Project poll, 57 percent of Vermonters want marijuana legalized—which is slightly below the national average of more than 60 percent, according to Gallup.

Possession is decriminalized in the state, one of the most liberal in the Northeast, and medical marijuana has been legal for years, but the episode reaffirms what we already knew: when it comes to legalizing weed, it’s up to voters.

Every state to legalize cannabis has done so via the popular vote on a citizen initiative. And in the case of Massachusetts, a voter-approved legalization framework has been changed by lawmakers to raise taxes and remove specific powers assigned to local voters and take it for themselves.

This begs the question: Just what are lawmakers waiting for? At least publicly, even they can’t bring themselves to offer any kind of excuse, even a believable one.

“Everybody in this state understands that marijuana is going to become law in Vermont at some point,” said House Republican Leader Don Turner, speaking at a recent party caucus, as the Free Press reported. “Someday it’s going to be here. But is this the time? I don’t know.”

“I don’t know” is a craven way to say, “I’d really rather not, but I’d also prefer not to say why.”

Vermont lawmakers may now take up the issue again in January 2018, when the next legislative session begins. What difference will seven months make? Maybe that will be long enough for Turner and his ilk to cook up an excuse for the needless prevarication.

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