Legalization Bill Needs Work Before It Will Pass House Vote, Says Smith

Feb 29, 2016

House Speaker Shap Smith says the House will spend the second half of the session closely reviewing a Senate bill that legalizes marijuana. Smith says supporters of the bill have a lot of work to do and doesn't think the proposal has the votes needed to pass at this time.

The effort to have Vermont legalize marijuana through the legislative process gained a big victory last week when the Senate gave its approval to the plan by a vote of 17 to 12.

Now the attention turns to the House.

House Speaker Shap Smith says he believes that the state should regulate marijuana. He says the question is if the Senate bill is the best way to do it.

"I believe that we should move in the direction of a legal regulated market and my view is that this bill moves us in the right direction,” Smith says. “I don't want to prejudge the specifics of it."

The bill allows individuals to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also imposes a 25 percent tax on the sale of marijuana and the new revenue is used to beef up law enforcement efforts and to expand drug prevention and treatment programs.

Smith says he's not going to rush this bill through the House.

“I think it's important to get it right and if we can get it done this year and get the support I'm going to work to make sure that's happening,” says Smith. “If it is clear that we don't have the support and we can't get it right this year then we're not going to push something forward that's not ready for prime time."

Smith says it's clear that a number of House members have some serious concerns about the Senate plan.

"I think it's important to get it right and if we can get it done this year and get the support I'm going to work to make sure that's happening. If it is clear that we don't have the support and we can't get it right this year then we're not going to push something forward that's not ready for prime time." — House Speaker Shap Smith

“There are significant reservations among members of key committees including the Judiciary and the Appropriations committee. And if I were to count today whether this bill would pass without people having taking any testimony on it, I do not believe that it would pass,” Smith says. “So there's a fair amount of work that needs to be done." 

Smith says the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on this legislation when lawmakers return to Montpelier after their Town Meeting break.