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Vermont Marijuana Legalization Still Has a Chance This Year

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The effort to legalize marijuana in Vermont this year has hit a snag, but don’t count the Green Mountain State out just yet.

Less than two months ago, the state’s Senate approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. Gov. Peter Shumlin, who called for an end to cannabis prohibition in his State of the State address, announced his support for the legislation.

All signs seemed to be pointing to Vermont becoming the first state in the U.S. to end prohibition by an act of the legislature instead of via a voter initiative on the ballot.

But advocates always cautioned that bill would face a tougher road to passage in the House of Representatives.

They were right. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee took the Senate-passed bill and essentially threw it in the trash can.

Maxine Grad, chair of the committee, initially proposed replacing the plan to legalize, tax and regulate sales with a simple decriminalization of home cultivation of up to two cannabis plants. She also pushed for the state to create a commission to review a possible future legalization of marijuana commerce.

But the full committee wasn’t even willing to go that far. Instead, they rejected allowing homegrown marijuana and approved only the idea of a study commission. (The state has already decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis.)

While the development certainly doesn’t bode well for full legalization efforts, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the idea is dead in the water for the year. There are several legislative maneuvers that anti-prohibition advocates can still pursue.

Even though the House Judiciary Committee’s proposal doesn’t look anything like what the Senate passed, it’s still the same legislative vehicle, S.241. The bill will now head to at least two more committees before going in front of the full House, and could be further amended in any of those arenas, including by having the Senate-approved language put back in.

And if the full House ends up approving some version of the bill (unless for some reason it passes exactly what the Senate already approved), there will then be a conference committee made of three members each from the House and the Senate who would negotiate and iron out the differences to come up with a single proposal to send back to both chambers for final passage. It is entirely possible that even if the bill that initially passes the House doesn’t include legal sales, the conference committee would add it back in.

Another way forward would be for the Senate to amend an unrelated bill passed by the House to add in its marijuana legalization language. If it’s a bill that the House wants badly enough, it may be willing to accept legalization in order to enact it.

“We have a number of options available to us,” Dick Sears, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Vermont Press Bureau. “There are a number of bills that are very important to the House Judiciary Committee that contain the word marijuana and those bills can certainly have things added to them. I’m not giving up the ship. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there.”

The House Ways and Means Committee began considering the bill on Tuesday, as did the House Education Committee.

Photo Courtesy of OpenRangeStock

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