Vermont Delays Vote on Legalization

Vermont house leaders said on Monday they didn’t think they had support in the House for a Senate-passed bill legalizing marijuana in Vermont, and delayed until Tuesday a compromise vote for decriminalization. The Senate-passed bill would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in the state.

The house bill would not legalize retail sales of marijuana, as the Senate agreed to do. Instead, the proposed compromise calls for decriminalization for home growing of up to two cannabis plants.

But prospects even for that measure, replacing criminal penalties with fines akin to a traffic ticket appeared uncertain Monday.

Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, the leader of majority Democrats in the House, said Monday night that the amendment containing the compromise language had not yet been drafted. As for whether it had the votes to pass, she said, “The outcome is unclear.”

The House did approve, on a 133-13 roll call vote, a separate measure expanding Vermont’s medical marijuana law to a broader range of patients with pain by replacing the words “severe pain” with “chronic pain.” The current law has made it easier for some patients to get opiates than marijuana for pain treatment, supporters of the change said. It also expands the law to cover patients with glaucoma, an eye disorder.

The Senate passed a bill in late February calling for legalization of up to an ounce by people 21 or older, and setting a system to license and tax growers and retailers. The Senate did not allow for home cultivation, something supporters in the House have demanded be included in the bill.

But in the 150-member House, overall support for legalization has been far weaker than in the Senate.

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith, who supports legalization, said he doubts the bill will pass in the House, however, saying “it’s not completely baked yet” and that he’d rather see advocates keep working to build support for another vote next year. Smith said he would not block the House from voting.

“Unfortunately, I think it may do some long-term harm to the issue. I was trying to avoid that,” he said.

Smith said he hopes the House and Senate can agree on some kind of marijuana reform “to advance the issue” before adjournment, expected at the end of the week.

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