Vermont is one of ten states where the The Marijuana Policy Project, a group based in Washington D.C., plans to wage a campaign to legalize marijuana by 2017.
“Vermont has been ahead of the curve for some time, being one of the 20 states that’s approved marijuana for medical use and now a state that has decriminalized. So the legislature here is certainly well informed about marijuana policy issues,” says Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the group. “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be ahead of the curve as states move towards regulating marijuana.”
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana. Simon says a decision by the federal Justice Department not to interfere with the implementation of laws in these states has opened the door for others, like Vermont, to pass similar legislation.
“The federal reaction is going to be to allow them to move forward implementing those laws,” says Simon. “And I think lawmakers in Montpelier and elsewhere we be watching that process closely.”
One person who will be keeping a close watch on the developments in Colorado and Washington is Governor Peter Shumlin.
“I’m thrilled that they’re going first. I think that we can learn from them. I don’t think Vermont will be the only state that watches closely,” says Shumlin. “I would predict over time that you’re going to see other states join Colorado and Washington state in a sensible legalization law.”
Shumlin says he supports the legalization of marijuana but he’s in no hurry to have Vermont lawmakers consider the issue.
“I believe that legalizing and taxing marijuana in the future for the state is going to be the direction this country takes and Vermont should be a part of that conversation,” he says. “But I’m not either willing or proposing to do that this year it’s just not the top of my agenda.”
A legalization bill was introduced at the Statehouse last winter. Rep. Susan Hatch is the lead sponsor of a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana much in the same way that the state currently deals with alcohol.
The legislation faces an uncertain future because House Speaker Shap Smith says the bill is not one of his priorities for the 2014 session.