Pubdate: Wed, 04 May 2016
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Dave Gram


MONTPELIER (AP) - The Vermont House on Tuesday gave those hoping to 
make the state the first to legalize marijuana by legislation rather 
than referendum a major buzzkill.

The chamber's anti-pot actions included:

Rejecting Senate-passed language to legalize possession of up to an 
ounce of marijuana.

Voting down a measure to put the question to a nonbinding statewide 
referendum. Unlike 26 states, Vermont has no form of direct petition 
in which voters get to decide a question other than constitutional 
amendments. The four states and District of Columbia that have 
legalized marijuana have done so by referendum.

Defeating "compromise" language promoted by leaders of the majority 
Democrats that stopped short of legalization but expanded 
decriminalization, which punishes violators with fines rather than 
criminal penalties.

During the lead-up to the debate, there were pot puns aplenty.

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown and a supporter, warned Monday 
that advocates had not done enough work to get the bill ready for 
floor action in the House, calling it "not completely baked." Toward 
the end of the day Tuesday, Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, 
labeled the efforts to liberalize Vermont's marijuana laws "up in smoke."

With three or four days left in a session expected to wrap up Friday 
or Saturday, lawmakers said they would not have time to work out the 
big differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

"It's unfortunate we're dealing with it in the final hours of the 
session," said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington. The Judiciary 
Committee chairman had been a principal author of the Senate bill. 
The Senate completed its work in late February, and Sears complained 
that the bill appeared to have stalled in the House for at least some 
of the time since then.

Critics of legalization critics were elated.

"I think all of law enforcement is happy with the results," said 
Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel, president of the Vermont Police 
Association. "It went very well."

Merkel said he favors "a slower, deliberative approach," in which 
Vermont take some time to see what happens in other states that have 
legalized marijuana before following suit.

Stephanie Winters, executive director of the American Academy of 
Pediatrics' Vermont chapter, said its member doctors area "very 
pleased with the House's rejection of legalization and homegrown 
marijuana, and believe it is an acknowledgement of the harm that more 
marijuana in the state would cause, especially when it comes to the 
state's youth and health outcomes."

Gov. Peter Shumlin took the opposite view.

"The War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition has failed," said a 
statement issued by his office. "I want to thank those House members 
who recognize that and worked to move this issue forward. It is 
incredibly disappointing, however, that a majority of the House has 
shown a remarkable disregard for the sentiment of most Vermonters who 
understand that we must pursue a smarter policy when it comes to 
marijuana in this state."
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