Pubdate: Fri, 8 Feb 2008
Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Brattleboro Publishing Co.
Author: Paul H. Heintz, Reformer Staff
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


It was a mixed day for the cannabis plant in Montpelier

The Vermont House of Representatives came one step closer to passing a
bill that would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp, though
the state law would have no practical effect unless a federal ban is

The Senate Judiciary committee, meanwhile, voted 4-1 in favor of a
bill that would decrease some penalties for the possession of small
amounts of marijuana -- though the committee sawed most of the teeth
off the original, wide-ranging decriminalization bill, which was
sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham.

"To be honest with you, I'm glad we started the conversation. I would
rather it go farther than it does, but I know there are some issues
that came up that were problematic and would have some unanticipated
consequences," White said of the decriminalization bill. "Two months
ago people would have thrown up their hands and said I was a crazy

White's original bill would have made the sale or possession of four
ounces of marijuana or less a civil penalty with a fine, rather than a
criminal offense. The amended version, however, simply removes the
potential of jail time for those in possession of one ounce or less.
If caught, a person with that amount could either submit to a
diversion program or be charged a $500 fine for the first offense and
a $750 fine for the second.

"The committee rejects the idea of decriminalizing the sale of any
amount of any drug," said committee chairman Sen. Dick Sears,
D-Bennington. "If somebody sells something, that's going to be a
criminal offense as long as I'm around. But I think we need to have a
debate about our drug laws and whether they're working."

Sears said the committee decided, in the end, to enact as law what is
already common practice in many parts of Vermont.

"We are trying to do what is the general practice of most state's
attorneys in the state, which is to offer diversion to people in
possession of small amounts," he said.

White said she was disappointed with the changes, but was glad the
Legislature had begun to grapple with the issue.

"I won't ever get my own way on anything totally, but that's what it's
all about: trying to get 180 opinions together and make some headway,"
she said.

An unrelated bill that would legalize the cultivation of hemp had more
success Thursday. In its second reading on the House floor, it passed
with bipartisan support on 127-9 vote. The bill will likely be passed
today and then move on to the Senate.

"I think it's a good step in the right direction," said Rep. Daryl
Pillsbury, I-Brattleboro, a cosponsor of the bill.

Proponents of legalizing hemp say the plant, which is a cousin of that
which produces marijuana, has just trace amounts of THC, the active
ingredient in marijuana. They argue that hemp is a tremendously
versatile and valuable crop that can be used for food, clothing and
even building.

"The first potential is seed and food product. I'm very excited for
the prospect of building materials," said Ian Kiehle, store manager
for Brattleboro's Save the Corporations, which sells hemp products.
"Imagine if we could have, literally, a home-grown green industry in
Vermont. That is possible."

For the moment, however, the move is largely symbolic, as the federal
Drug Enforcement Administration's ban on its cultivation would
supersede a new state law.

Nevertheless, the bill's advocates see it as a victory.

"This place has worked on this issue for a while," said Rep. David
Deen, another cosponsor. "I believe most legislators are convinced you
can't get high from industrial hemp, and it is a wonderful, alternate
crop for Vermont farmers." 
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