Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads to Full Senate| 0
Step by step, it’s looking increasingly likely that Vermont could become the first state to legalize marijuana through action by lawmakers rather than via a voter initiative.
On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee became the chamber’s third panel in a row to approve a bill to end prohibition and tax and regulate cannabis sales. The Judiciary and Finance Committees have also acted favorably on the legislation in recent weeks.
The proposal now heads to the full Senate where a vote is expected this week, as soon as Wednesday.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, who voted against the bill in committee on Monday, said he thinks the final tally in the full Senate will “be very close.”
Advocates expect Senate passage, but say the legislation could face a harder road in the House of Representatives even though Speaker Shap Smith has given his support to bringing the bill to a vote.
“I think that within the next couple of years you’ll see the legalization of marijuana,” Smith told VTDigger. “Whether it’s this year, I think is an open question.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who called for an end to marijuana prohibition in his State of the State address last month, supports the legislation and will sign it if it gets to his desk.
“This bill will allow Vermont to undercut the black market and get rid of illegal drug dealers, focus on prevention and treatment, and do a better job than we do currently of keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and addressing drugged drivers who are already on Vermont’s roads,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook. “The War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition has failed. We can and should take a smarter approach.”
Also on Monday a new poll from Vermont Public Radio showed that 55 percent in the state support legalizing marijuana, with just 32 percent opposed.
— Vermont Public Radio (@vprnet) February 22, 2016
The four U.S states that have legalized and regulated marijuana sales have all done so through voter initiatives. (Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot item legalizing possession, but not sales, of cannabis.)
Vermont is seen by many marijuana policy reform advocates as the most likely to be the first state to end prohibition through an act of the legislature.
Rhode Island is also seen as a contender, with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello saying recently that the legislature could be “pretty nimble” in passing a bill if voters in neighboring Massachusetts approve a legalization measure that is expected to appear on the state’s ballot in November.
But for now, Vermont seems to have a leg up, as long as efforts don’t stall in the House over the coming months. If the bill isn’t passed this year, the prospects could dim for next session, depending on the outcome of this November’s election to replace Shumlin as governor. Two Democrats vying for the job are in support of legalization but two Republican candidates have come out against it.
In 2014, House of Representatives in New Hampshire became the first state legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The state’s Senate did not follow suit, however, and the legislation died.