It's likely that the legalization of marijuana could emerge as a key issue in this year's gubernatorial race. That's because both Democratic candidates support a bill making its way through the Senate and both Republicans are against it.
The legislation would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana in Vermont in 2018.
Under a bill sponsored by Windham Sen. Jeanette White and Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning, individuals could purchase up to a half an ounce of marijuana from an authorized retail outlet and they could possess a total of one ounce.
The legislation also imposes a 25 percent tax on the sale of marijuana and a lot of the new revenue would be used for drug prevention programs and enhanced law enforcement efforts.
Both Democratic candidates argue that legalizing marijuana offers the state an opportunity to tightly regulate what's currently an illegal market.
Former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter thinks state oversight will ensure that consumers clearly understand the potency of the marijuana that they're buying.
“We know people are using and we know it's on the black market and we don't know what they are smoking,” Minter explains. “Kids have more access to that than they do to alcohol. I want to rein it in. I want to regulate and distribute carefully and slowly."
Former state Sen. Matt Dunne also supports legalization because he says it gives the state a chance to set its own terms for the use of this drug.
“We have the chance to actually regulate it, get rid of the prohibition, which frankly hasn't been working that well,” Dunne says. “Make sure that we're actually getting resources to do prevention for the people who are adversely affected and again chart our own destiny.”
Both Republican candidates oppose passing a bill this year. Lt. Governor Phil Scott says there's no reason for Vermont to rush into legalization.
"I think we're in a unique position here that we can watch what other states are doing,” Scott says. “We have four other states that legalized, and we can find out the positive effects of their legislation and what it's done to their states before we jump forward."
And businessman Bruce Lisman says there are far too many unanswered questions about the impact that legalization could have in Vermont.
"We're just getting our arms around it,” Lisman says. “We're saying this thing is legal, what's the hurry, really why does it have to be this year or even next year. I'd say give it rest. Let's focus on really urgent things that are bothering Vermonters, and this isn't one of them."
The legislation could be on the Senate floor for a vote sometime next week.