While cannabis advocates push to raise vast campaign funding to pass initiatives to legalize the leaf in their neck of the woods, Vermont is poised to become the first state in the nation to take this leap by way of its legislature.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Shap Smith—who has admitted in the past to not being completely sold on the concept of legal weed—said that he fully intends to stand behind legislation in 2016 aimed at establishing a retail cannabis trade across the state.
Although Smith has stood along the sidelines of the cannabis movement over the past year, he now taken sides with the will of the people to pass a common sense bill on the issue in the next legislative session.
“It’s clear to me in my discussions with Vermonters that in general, the people in this state probably favor legalization,” Smith told Vermont Public Radio. “I will support a bill to legalize marijuana if we make sure that we have very strong protections for people who are driving under the influence, to make sure that we can prosecute them, and as long as we make sure that we have laws that keep marijuana out of the hands of kids.”
Smith’s support for legalization compounded with the current attitude in the governor’s office could create a perfect storm that will allow Vermont to do what no other state has yet to accomplish—legalize a fully recreational cannabis trade by way of the state legislature.
This is a big deal in the grand scheme of pot politics because it could inspire some of the more timid legislatures, at least those in states without the availability to pass voter initiatives, to crawl out from behind their shields of pseudo-morality and anti-pot politics to appease the popular majority.
Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, wrote earlier this year that it would be an “enormous political achievement” for a state to win legalization by getting it approved by the majority of the legislature and signed by the governor. He said that moving away from ballot initiatives and legalizing weed the “old-fashioned way” was the best method for getting recreational marijuana approved in the majority of the states.
It was predicted at the beginning of 2015 that Rhode Island would become the first state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature.
However, instead of throwing their balls up on the table in an aggressive effort to pass the bill, state lawmakers sandbagged the issue before taking off for summer recess. Therefore, while it looks like Vermont and Rhode Island are both contenders to pass a recreational measure in 2016, with the way each state’s respective legislative sessions falls, it is likely that the Green Mountain State will be the first to chisel its name in the history books.
So, what does this mean for Vermont’s stoner population?
Smith, who is running for Governor in 2016, said he feels confident the state legislature will pass a marijuana bill in the spring, setting the Vermont cannabis industry up to open its doors by 2017.