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Vermont Governor Calls for Legalizing Marijuana in State of the State Address

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Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin used his annual State of the State speech on Thursday to call on lawmakers to pass legislation legalizing and regulating marijuana.

“I will work with you to craft the right bill that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably,” Shumlin told legislators. “I believe we have the capacity to take this next step and get marijuana legalization done right the Vermont way. Let’s do it together.”

The state is seen by national legalization advocates as likely to be the first to end prohibition by an act of the legislature as opposed to through a citizen ballot initiative.

The speaker of Vermont’s House of Representatives, Shap Smith, said in September that he supports bringing a legalization bill to the floor in 2016. Senate leadership has been more publicly guarded, but Shumlin, in his speech, indicated that the chamber’s leaders are now prepared to move a bill.

This isn’t the first time that Shumlin, a Democrat, has endorsed ending cannabis prohibition. But by devoting a chunk of his State of the State speech to the issue, the governor signaled that getting a bill to his desk before he leaves office early next year is a priority.

The remarks come as a relief to advocates who worried Shumlin was getting cold feet on the issue after he said “I am still struggling with that” in an interview earlier this week, indicating that pending Senate cannabis legislation is “more expansive and bold” than he likes. “If we’re going to do this, do it very tepidly, very slowly,” he said. “Let’s be willing to take small, smart steps first.”

One of those steps, according to Thursday’s speech, includes a ban on selling edibles, at least initially. Vermont should “take a hard lesson learned from other states and ban the sale of edibles until other states figure out how to do it right,” Shumlin said. It is unclear for now whether the governor wants to continue allowing patients in the state’s medical marijuana system to access to edibles.

Shumlin also said he wants taxes on legal marijuana sales to be low enough to force black market dealers out of business.

“The black market of drug dealers selling marijuana for recreational use is alive and well, serving over 80,000 Vermonters who reported using marijuana last year,” he said. “These illegal dealers couldn’t care less how young their customers are or what’s in the product they sell, or what illegal drugs you buy from their stash, much less whether they pay taxes on their earnings.

The revenue the state generates from marijuana sales “must be used to expand addiction prevention programs,” the governor said.

Read Shumlin’s full remarks as prepared for delivery below.

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