Vermont House Blocks Pot Bill; No Chance For Legalization In 2017

Jun 21, 2017

Backers of a new marijuana legalization bill say they’re very disappointed that many members of the House Republican caucus and a number of Democrats voted to block consideration of the legislation in Wednesday’s veto session.

The bill won approval in the Senate on a voice vote but a procedural requirement called a "rules suspension" was needed to bring the proposal to the House floor for debate.

To open debate on the new bill 107 votes were needed but supporters fell far short of reaching that goal. Only 78 House members voted to suspend the rules and 63 members voted against the plan.

The new legislation included the framework of an agreement that was reached between Democratic leaders and Gov. Phil Scott.

The bill would have allowed people over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and they could also grow several plants.

It also addressed a number of public safety concerns that the governor had with the original bill and it expanded the work of a special commission that will look at ways to implement a state regulatory system with retail stores and the taxation of marijuana.

"So we don't need to be first, we don't even need to be 25th in my mind, let's learn from the people that have legalized it." — House Minority Leader Don Turner

House Minority Leader Don Turner defended the decision to block consideration of the bill. He says Vermont should not be in a rush to legalize marijuana and he thinks state officials could use the coming months to learn about any problems that might come up in other states.

"We will learn from each of those places that legalize it and whatever way shape or form they legalize it, and the issues that crop up as a result of the way they've legalized it, we won't have to go down that path,” said Turner. “So we don't need to be first, we don't even need to be 25th in my mind, let's learn from the people that have legalized it."    

As VPR reported earlier in June, Scott initially indicated he would reach out to members of the House Republican caucus to encourage them to suspend the rules and allow the bill to proceed.

House Judiciary Chairwoman Maxine Grad was disappointed with the outcome because she thinks many Vermonters want lawmakers to vote on this issue.

"Vermonters should have the opportunity to be involved in the conversation and by having the vote come to the floor it allows us as representatives to have the conversation," said Grad. 

"None of the components of the bill other than the commission take effect until July 1 of 2018, so I think we're more poised to have agreement in January of 2018." — Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears

Despite the setback in winning approval for a legalization bill this year, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears said the groundwork has been set for lawmakers to address this issue when they return to the Statehouse in January.

"None of the components of the bill other than the commission take effect until July 1, 2018 so I think we're more poised to have agreement in January of 2018, " said Sears. 

Sears says he'll encourage Scott to create the special commission through an Executive Order because this action will give the panel additional time to do its research.