Pubdate: Sat, 30 Apr 2016
Source: Bennington Banner (VT)
Copyright: 2016 by MediaNews Group, Inc.
Author: Elizabeth Hewitt,


Senators are trying to prod the House into action on legalizing 
marijuana by sending their legislation over a second time - this time 
attached to a House bill.

The Senate attached the full text of S.241, which passed the body in 
February, to a separate bill as an amendment Wednesday. The 
underlying bill, H.858, makes a series of miscellaneous changes to 
criminal procedure.

The move, spearheaded by Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, comes as 
S.241 has reached a standstill in a House committee.

However, House Speaker Shap Smith said his membership still won't 
vote for legalization - no matter how many times it's proposed.

After moving through two committees, one of which stripped 
legalization and regulation completely from the legislation, S.241 
landed in the House Appropriations Committee in mid-April. According 
to Smith, there is not sufficient support to move it out of that committee.

Sears attached the marijuana legalization structure to H.858 in three 
amendments. The first makes a technical correction to the 2013 
statute that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. 
The second amendment includes the parts of S.241 that would legalize 
possession of small amounts of pot by adults age 21 and up. The third 
adds the remainder of the bill, including the regulatory structure.

The three amendments constitute the entirety of S.241 as well as 
language that would create an intention to further review the issue 
of growing marijuana at home and selling on a smaller scale.

The underlying bill, just three pages long, clarifies when sex 
offenders' information will be posted to the online registry and 
clarifies policy around expungement of a criminal record.

No members of the Senate challenged whether the amendments were 
germane to the underlying bill, though Sen. Helen Riehle, 
R-Chittenden, did question Sears briefly about the relationship 
between one amendment and the bill.

The third amendment passed on a vote of 16 to 12. The bill passed on 
the same vote.

Sears said he sent the contents of S.241 to the other body again 
because he wants House lawmakers to weigh in on the issue of legalization.

"It gives them the opportunity to make decisions," Sears said, "and 
given that the (marijuana) bill is hung up in the Appropriations 
Committee, I just felt that this was the appropriate bill to do it on."

Sears noted that at the end of the session, it is common to 
consolidate bills in order to ensure they move before adjournment. "I 
don't think it's any different than what we do with dozens of bills," 
Sears said.

Even though the proposal to legalize and regulate marijuana is coming 
to the House again, that does not mean the lower chamber will give it 
any warmer a reception.

According to Smith, the move does not force a vote on the House 
floor. He noted that the strategy Sears employed is a common one in 
the Statehouse, and one many lawmakers expected.

"It's not like this hasn't been anticipated for some time," Smith said.

If H.858 comes to the House floor, likely the body would vote not to 
concur with the Senate version, which would set up a conference 
committee. If the legalization structure does make it to the floor in 
the conference committee version of the bill, Smith said, "it will 
lose, and it will lose badly."

He said there are "not very many" votes in favor, but wouldn't give a 
specific number. "I can tell you that it is a significant minority," 
Smith said.

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said his caucus has not 
taken an official stance on the bill but that surveys of House 
Republicans show no members willing to support it.

Members of the Senate who opposed the pot bill when it was on the 
floor in February maintained their stance.

President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, an opponent of S.241, 
said he sees this as a "clear push" to allow corporations to make 
money on a legalized pot market.

"I think it's a waste of our time," he said.

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, said after Wednesday's vote that she did 
not understand what was happening when Sears offered his first 
amendment, and questioned whether it was germane.

"It's not a good way to do things, and we all know that," Flory said.

Floor amendments and integration of bills are not uncommon tactics, 
she said, but she pointed out that Sears' amendments were much longer 
than the additions typically offered on the floor.

"It is proof that you should never watch sausage or laws being made," 
Flory said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom