It’s been an exciting start for marijuana reform in Vermont thus far in 2016 as the Senate approved a bill which would make marijuana legal to possess and outlined a very detailed plan for a retail distribution program. Unfortunately, not long after the bill was passed in the Senate, it was torn apart in the House of Representatives. They completely gutted the original bill and all it aimed to do, replacing it with a call to do further research on the idea of marijuana legalization.
Luckily, there was at least one House committee that had these interests in mind as the Ways and Means Committee passed the bill which they altered to allow for the home growing of up to 2 plants and that legalizes possession up to 2.5 ounces. It seemed that even if the Senate and House could not agree now, there might be a chance to compromise once the House passed a revised version of the Senate bill.
Unfortunately, it seemed that there was a chance that it would never make it that far as House Speaker Shap Smith did not want to bring the bill to the House floor for a final vote. He claimed that the bill did not have enough support in order to pass, so he didn’t want to bother with the vote at all. In the end, however, all the pressure from Governor Shumlin for them to take a vote might have actually worked out and we could see a vote as soon as Monday.
“I just don’t think that I want that misinterpretation out there anymore,” Smith said. “If people want to vote on it, they’re going to get it.”
“I still think it’s a bad idea,” he said. “I have told the advocates that I don’t think a vote is in the long-term interests of the issue. What I’m worried about is if we have a vote this year and its negative, that people next year will say, ‘Why bother?'”
Smith had originally suggested to Shumlin that he may decide to bring the issue to the public via a non-binding referendum to be voted on in November. While this would allow them to see where the public stood on the issue at an official level, the polls have been pretty clear that the majority of Vermonters are supporting marijuana reform – in whatever form the lawmakers choose to offer it in. Shumlin stated that he would prefer not to issue a referendum, instead he wanted to know where the House stood on the issue.
In the end, Smith is sure that the House will vote against both of the proposed bills, as the original Senate bill has been attached to another for consideration and they will also be voting on the version passed by the Ways and Means Committee. If either one is likely to pass it would be the Ways and Means Committee version, which would again leave us waiting for the Senate and House to come to an agreement.
Even if the House were to deny both proposed bills, there is little chance that the Senate wouldn’t take up the issue again in the future. Clearly there is room to improvise and compromise until they come to a solution that is workable for both sides. Until we know exactly how far we are from that goal (which the House could still surprise us, you never know) there is no way to try and come to that compromise.
Until Monday we will all have to wait in anticipation – even for those of us who live outside of Vermont, each state that legalizes is encouraging others to do the same and you never know where will be next. It could be your state.