Pubdate: Sat, 16 Apr 2016
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2016 Rutland Herald
Author: Neal P. Goswami


MONTPELIER - The House Ways and Means Committee has voted to approve 
an amendment to a marijuana bill that would allow for the legal 
possession of up to 1 ounce and cultivation of up to two marijuana plants.

The amendment, which materialized in the committee Thursday, passed 
on a 7-4 vote Friday after a few minor changes. It would 
fundamentally alter the bill advanced by the House Judiciary 
Committee last week.

The Judiciary Committee's work stripped out the Senate's language 
that legalized marijuana and created a regulatory structure for its 
retail sale. But support for that never materialized among Judiciary 
Committee members, so it was amended to create a commission to study 
the issue. That was barely approved on a 6-5 vote.

The House version of the legislation calls for $150,000 for the 
commission and about $350,000 for education programs. The Ways and 
Means Committee amendment legalizes the possession of up to 1 ounce 
of marijuana, 5 grams of hashish and the cultivation of up to two 
marijuana plants at each dwelling.

Cultivation would require the purchase of a $125 permit from the 
state. Sarah Teachout, a fiscal analyst with the Legislature's Joint 
Fiscal Office, said she expects about 3,600 permits to be issued.

She estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Vermonters regularly use 
marijuana, and 12 percent of those users would seek a permit. She 
noted that the estimates come with a "pretty high degree of 
uncertainty," however.

Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, said she is strongly opposed to the 
amendment. She noted that it is being considered as a way to generate 
money to help fund education programs to warn youth of the drug's dangers.

"We're doing this by allowing parents to grow pot in their 
backyards," she said. "The word irony is really difficult to define 
until it's right in front of you."

Komline also decried a lack of testimony taken by the committee on 
its proposal.

"We're not even hearing from police. We're not hearing from 
teachers," she said.

Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, said he opposed it based on process. 
Ways and Means is a money committee and should not be tinkering with 
policy, he said.

"This kind of thing made us nuts in a policy committee, where a 
policy committee worked on things for a long time ... and then it 
came to a money committee with minimal testimony and made a major 
policy change," he said. "The process, I think, is just not the way 
we ought to be doing things."

But Rep. Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington, reminded him that the 
committee supported his efforts to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

"We supported your changing the age of smoking and that was policy," she said.

"That's true," Till replied.

The committee chairwoman, Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, said she worked 
closely on the proposal with the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee.

"We're not doing it in isolation. I would feel very uncomfortable if 
we were," Ancel said. "If we kill the bill, that's a pretty big 
policy statement as well. We're going to do something that looks like 
policy no matter what we do here."

Rep. Jim Condon, D-Colchester, said he was voting in favor of the 
proposal in committee simply to advance it.

"I'm going to support it out of committee, but I can't commit to 
supporting it on the floor," Condon said. "It's been an unusual path 
to this piece of legislation, but we'll let it keep going and see 
what happens."

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, said it is too soon to know 
if the proposal will see majority support in the House. He has 
previously said there were not enough votes to support legalization.

"I think it's an intriguing idea that may be a step in the right 
direction," the speaker said. "I think it's hard to know until 
something's on the table. It's hard to count something that is 
amorphous and unknown. I think once the proposal is flushed out and 
put on the table, we'll have a better sense of whether the body would 
support it."

The bill must still make it through the House Appropriations 
Committee before hitting the House floor. If the full House passes it,

House and Senate negotiators will need to reconcile their differences 
if a bill is to make it to Gov. Peter Shumlin's desk.

Shumlin, who supports legalization, praised the Ways and Means 
Committee amendment Friday.

"There is no question that we can and must improve on the current 
system of marijuana prohibition that is failing us to miserably," he 
said in a statement. "The committee's action today takes a step 
toward addressing the nonsensical system that asks the one -in-eight 
Vermonters who admit to using marijuana on a monthly basis to buy it 
from a drug dealer."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom