Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2016 Rutland Herald
Author: Neal P. Goswami, Vermont Press Bureau


MONTPELIER - The Senate on Wednesday attached language it passed 
earlier this year - creating a legal, regulated marijuana market - to 
a House-passed bill dealing with criminal procedures, a move designed 
to spur the House into action on legalizing pot.

The House has not considered S.241, the Senate's marijuana 
legalization bill passed earlier this year, on the floor. After being 
scaled back by the House Judiciary Committee to only include a 
commission to examine the issue, the House Ways and Means Committee 
amended it again to legalize up to one ounce of pot and the 
cultivation of two marijuana plants.

The legislation has been stalled in the House Appropriations 
Committee for nearly two weeks, however. Without the votes to advance 
it, the committee has opted to let the clock run out on the 
legislative biennium.

That has frustrated members of the Senate, who are now looking to 
force the House to take another look at the legalized, regulated 
marijuana market they are proposing.

"It was just an attempt to give the House a little nudge and ask them 
to please vote on the bill and give them an opportunity since it's 
clearly hung up in the House Appropriations Committee," said Sen. 
Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Appropriations 
Committee. "With a week and a half left and it still being stuck in 
House Appropriations, I felt like I needed to do something for those 
senators who stuck their neck out and voted for it."

Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith said the maneuver did not come as 
a surprise.

"I think anybody who's been around this building would have predicted 
this would happen if something didn't come out of the House," Smith 
said. "If I were a betting man I would not bet anything would come 
out of the House."

The nudge is not likely to produce the action the Senate is seeking. 
Smith said the House Appropriations Committee lacks the votes to 
advance the Senate bill. And the House will not approve H.858, the 
House-passed bill the Senate sent back, with the marijuana language 
attached, he said.

"There are only a couple of bills that have to pass and they all 
involve money. This one does not," the speaker said Wednesday.

The House has several options to deal with H.858. It could concur 
with the Senate's proposal of amendment, but that would mean 
approving legalization of marijuana and Smith says that will not happen.

It could also move to postpone action on the bill indefinitely or 
vote not to concur and essentially leave the legislation in limbo.

Smith said there will be no up or down vote on the Senate's 
legalization language on the House floor. The House may still move 
forward with its own version of S.241, though, and create the 
commission to study legalization.

"My sense is that there are a lot of people who have been unwilling 
to move S.241 because they thought that it would be a vehicle for 
legalization and regulation and they didn't want that to happen," he 
said. "I think that people are now discovering there's more than one 
way that this can hit the House floor. We can't avoid the question."

Too many House members remain wary of legalizing marijuana, according 
to Smith. Passing a scaled-back version of S.241 and creating the 
commission is likely the only step forward on the issue this year, he said.

"If we're not going to legalize and regulate, my view is we need to 
pay attention to what's happening around us in neighboring states and 
provinces and understand that this is an issue that we need to deal 
with," he said. "If we have questions that need to be answered then I 
think we need to figure out to answer those questions."

Sears said he will not attach the legalization language to any other 
legislation. He considered attaching it to a House-passed bill that 
seeks to ease civil traffic fines and license suspensions, but was 
convinced by advocates not to.

"It's up now to the House to decide how to deal with it, but it's 
there," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom