Vermont’s bill to allow low-level possession and small home cultivation has officially had its wings clipped. Advocates and pro-marijuana legislators were hoping to see it pass before crossover day but as of Wednesday last week it had been taken off of the agenda, not to be seen again. House Bill 170 does still have a chance of resurfacing next session.
H. 170 had all the makings of a bill that would pass: it cleared the Senate (although it later stalled in the House), it would eliminate all penalties for adults over 21 for one ounce of cannabis or less, and allow adults two mature plants and up to four young plants in their home. But, it seems the agenda for last Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee changed at the last minute, and H. 170 went away. When crossover day passed last Friday, it became evident that the legislation will sit on a shelf until the 2018 session. Cannabis legalization advocates started 2017 a little more cheery than usual because the bill looked “good to go” by all accounts. Vermont’s House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to approve the bill. “Today’s vote shows just how far this issue has advanced in just this past year,” said Marijuana Policy Project’s Matt Simon, following that vote. “Most Vermonters agree it makes no sense to continue punishing adults for consuming a less harmful substance than alcohol — especially now that it is legal for adults in Massachusetts and Maine. Vermonters are ready to close the book on marijuana prohibition.” But as crossover day came and went last week, the bill got left in the dust (at least for now).
The Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana expected the vote to be a close call on Wednesday; when word came that the agenda had changed, they sent an urgent email for supporters to get in touch with their local legislators to get Bill 170 back on the agenda but to no avail.
So what happened?
Independent Rep. Laura Sibilia of Dover said last Tuesday that she wanted a closer examination of youth prevention under a legal marijuana system and moved to pull the bill back; the House agreed.
The silver lining to this is that advocates in Montpelier say that some of the expected ‘yes’ votes would not have been present for the vote. What should have been a close vote may have ended up overturned.
Now, the bill will be sent to the House Services Committee, which is responsible for drug prevention bills. Legalization advocates are keeping hope alive that the legislation can still live through procedural moves even in light of the Friday crossover deadline.
H. 170 on-par with the D.C. model
The non-commercial approach outlined in H. 170 would put Vermont just about on-par with the Washington, D.C. model, and it’s already a trimmed back version of the full-scale tax-and-regulate bill that cleared Senate last year.
“I like this bill,” Republican Rep. Thomas Burditt said. “There is minimal government intervention, and when I look at some of the other states that have legalized, I look at maximum government intervention.”
Vermont has already decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of cannabis. The new bill would extend that up to two ounces, plus eliminate all penalties for adults over 21 for that, and for home cultivation of two mature plants and up to four immature plants, along with the cannabis produced by those plants if stored properly at home.
A separate bill, H.490, would create a broader system of legal and regulated cultivation and sales, though it is much less likely to pass this year.
Featured image by Carlos Gracia