Supporters of a plan to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana are making it clear that the current legalization bill being considered by Vermont lawmakers is just one small step in a much broader effort.
Last week, the House gave its approval to legislation that allows individuals to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow two mature plants.
The Senate is scheduled to debate the plan Wednesday afternoon, and Gov. Phil Scott says he'll sign it when it reaches his desk.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman says the so-called "personal possession plan," known as H.511, is the beginning — not the end — of the marijuana legalization debate at the Statehouse.
"I know many of the advocates and myself will continue to advocate for fully changing our law and completing the process moving forward, not only with H.511 as a step towards changing our laws here in Vermont, but ultimately towards a full-fledged tax-and-regulate system," said Zuckerman.
Bradford Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas says the tax-and-regulate system will bring in millions of dollars to fund essential prevention and education programs.
"Until we can take some of that revenue from a tax-and-regulated marijuana market and move that revenue into the kinds of youth prevention and public health outreach that needs to be done to educate people about safe marijuana use, we're gonna continue to fall further behind," said Copeland-Hanzas.
Former Windsor County State's Attorney Bobby Sand is the current director of the Justice Reform Center at Vermont Law School. He says the time has come to realize that the "war on drugs" has been a failure when it comes to marijuana.
"But going to war with our own people who, at worst, are engaging in self-harming behavior is counterproductive and damaging to our democracy,” said Sand.
Anna Stevens, the outreach director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, says the tax-and-regulate approach also helps deal with the problem of racial disparity in law enforcement in the state.
"Black and brown people in Vermont were 4.4 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white people — and guess what? They reported using marijuana at nearly identical rates," said Stevens.
Guy Page is the director of Physicians, Families & Friends For A Better Vermont — a group that strongly opposes the legalization of marijuana. He says lawmakers are not listening to some of their core constituents on this issue.
"We have all seven of the state's medical societies saying 'do not legalize marijuana' and for some reason, we're ignoring them. If we went to regulated sale, we'd be ignoring our police," said Page.
And Page argues that the tax-and-regulate model is the worst option facing the state.
"Not only do you get increased consumption, but you still have a terrible problem with the black market. ... It hasn't made it better. In fact in many ways it's made it worse," said Page.
But not all marijuana opponents agree with Page.
House Minority Leader Don Turner opposes the legalization of marijuana and voted last week against the personal possession bill — but Turner says it's clear the Vermont Legislature is going to legalize marijuana, and if that's going to happen, he'd rather see a tax-and-regulate plan.
At the end of the House's debate last week, Turner introduced an amendment implementing the full state regulatory approach but it was defeated.
"This is one that I feel very strongly that I had to try it," said Turner. "I had to do something that I felt was responsible. And you know, if this does go ahead and pass, I hope that they do the tax and regulate versus just wild west."
Legislative leaders say they are lukewarm to the idea of passing a tax-and-regulate plan this session, and Scott says he'll oppose it until his special Marijuana Advisory Commission has a chance to study this issue.
The commission's report isn't scheduled to be finished until nearly a year from now.