Vermont: Legal Marijuana Could Be Doomed for 2016

While marijuana advocates have been looking to Vermont as being the great green mountain of hope in terms of finally getting weed legalized somewhere in the United States by way of the state legislature, a recent turn of events brought down by the House of Representatives stands to sabotage a highly publicized bill aimed at bringing an end to the state’s prohibitionary standard.

Earlier this year, almost immediately following Governor Peter Shumlin’s State of the State address calling for lawmakers to get serious about pot reform, the state Senate pushed through a piece of legislation intended to create a taxed and regulated cannabis market. Although the bill was amended into a less impressive version of its original form—eliminating provisions for home cultivation and cannabis clubs—it appeared that Vermont was well on its way to becoming the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana through the powers of the state. 

Unfortunately, the optimism surrounding this development may have been a bit premature.

It was reveled this week that the House decided that Vermont is not quite ready to embark on a journey into the realm of full-blown legalization. A key committee under the guidance of Representative Maxine Grad has ripped the Senate bill to shreds and started from scratch on a new proposal that replaces the concept of full legalization with more decriminalization.

According to a report from WCAX, instead of legalizing marijuana in a manner similar to what has happened in states like Colorado and Washington, the House has switched gears, proposing a new decriminalization measure that would simply eliminate the criminal penalties for those caught growing up to two plants. The new bill would also give way to the creation of a special task force charged with investigating the pros and cons of operating a taxed and regulated market in an effort to determine whether the state should get involved in the business of selling weed in the future. 

This conflict between the House and Senate is enough of a snag to completely prevent a piece of pot reform from landing on the desk of Governor Shumlin in 2016. As it stands, both chambers must come to some sort of agreement, one that is at least comparable to the original bill, in order for a recreational cannabis industry to have a fighting chance at seeing the light of day.

By the time it is all said and done, the situation could end up being a nauseating standoff between whether residents would prefer the freedom to grow a couple of plants at home or the convenience of buying weed from retail shops.

“We would like to see a regulated market, and the bill they’re talking about today doesn’t have anything about a regulated market,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told NPR. “At the same time, we believe people should be able to grow a limited supply of their own plants, and this bill would take the state in that direction, which the Senate bill didn’t do.” 

If competing bills do end up going head to head, representatives from both chambers would gather in an effort to negotiate a compromise.

(Photo Courtesy of VPR)

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