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Vermont Marijauna Legalization in Jeopardy

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Less than two months ago, Vermont’s Senate approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who called for an end to cannabis prohibition in his State of the State address, announced his support for the legislation. Advocates were optimistic, but cautioned that the bill still needed to clear the state’s House of Representatives before it could be signed into law.

Now, the prospects of Vermont becoming the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana commerce by an act of the legislature instead of via a voter initiative may be dimming.

House committees have been holding hearings on the legislation for the past couple of weeks, and moving toward votes, but on Wednesday the chair of a key panel announced she’s scrapping the Senate bill and starting anew.

Instead of moving toward legal, regulated and taxed marijuana sales, House Judiciary Committee Chair Maxine Grad (D) wants to decriminalize limited homegrown cannabis, according to VTDigger.

The site reports that a discussion draft circulated by Grad allows up to two marijuana plants and would create a study commission to examine the possible future legalization and regulation of cannabis commerce. Simple possession of marijuana is already decriminalized in the state.

The Senate-approved bill does not include homegrow, which disappointed many legalization advocates.

Faced with the choice of legal commerce with no homegrow or limited homegrow but no legal sales, advocates may be conflicted and divided.

But Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project told Marijuana.com in an interview that he doesn’t “see it as a one or the other choice.”

He said advocates will keep pushing for a comprehensive proposal.

We would certainly like to see any bill include a clear path to both legal, limited home cultivation and regulated sales,” Simon said.

But unless the House is willing to adopt the Senate bill or something close to it, it’s unclear at this point if anything will cross the legislative finish line this year and make it to the governor’s desk.

“The deadline for sending legislation between the two chambers passed in early March, VTDigger reports. “At this point, the Senate Rules Committee would need to agree to suspend the rules for a new bill to even come under consideration in the upper chamber.”

Simon said that the Judiciary Committee is aiming to vote on a proposal by Friday, “so we should have a clearer indication on where this is heading soon.”

He remains optimistic, saying that it’s “way too early to draw any conclusions about what the House is going to do.”

If the House and Senate end up passing different legalization bills, a conference committee with three members from each chamber will be formed and tasked with crafting a compromise proposal that would then back before the full bodies.

“There is a good bit of uncertainty in the House Judiciary Committee, which is divided on the issue. At the same time, there appears to be a strong desire to move forward with some kind of a bill,” he said. “The Senate’s position is still in favor of a regulated market system, so this could make for a very interesting conference if a bill passes the House.”

Photo courtesy of Christopher Gardiner

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