The effort to legalize marijuana has gotten a big boost at the Statehouse. Gov. Peter Shumlin and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears have announced their support for a bill that "cautiously and deliberately" moves to legalize marijuana in Vermont.
Standing together in the governor's ceremonial office at the Statehouse, Shumlin and Sears called for a "common sense" approach to regulate the sale of marijuana in the state.
They both agreed on a number of principles that Shumlin outlined in his State of the State address including keeping marijuana out of the hands of children, and using revenue from a special tax to fund drug addiction programs and expand the Vermont State Police force.
The bill would also increase the capacity of law enforcement officials to deal with impaired drivers.
Shumlin says roughly 80,000 Vermonters admit to smoking marijuana at least once a month and he wants to eliminate the black market where these people currently get their marijuana.
"We all know that dealers don't care how old you are when they sell you their wares, or of their cache of goodies, what's in it,” Shumlin said. “We all know that any bill has to wipe out the black market and get rid of the dealers for pot."
Sen. Sears says the bill will remove civil penalties for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and would allow for the creation of between 30 to 40 retail outlets that would be licensed to sell marijuana.
But Sears strongly opposes efforts to allow Vermonters to grow their own marijuana and he wants a special commission to examine this issue.
"When the governor's representative for marijuana in Colorado says ‘this is something we wish we hadn't done,’ allow homegrown, I think you have to take that advice seriously,” Sears said. “It's created many problems for them in terms of enforcement. It's created what's called a gray market where people are selling excess. It's not just simple.”
Chittenden Sen. David Zuckerman is the lead sponsor of a legalization bill that would allow individuals to grow several plants for their own consumption. He's not ready to abandon this idea just yet.
"The bigger picture is moving forward with changing the whole paradigm where we're talking about something that is currently in society and what's the best way to manage it,” Zucherman said. “And we're shifting that management from prohibition to above board discussions and regulations and that's a good step forward.”
The leading opponents of the legalization bill, a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana, did not respond to several attempts to contact them.
The Senate Judiciary committee is scheduled to vote on the legalization bill on Friday.