A bill that would tax and regulate marijuana in Vermont underwent a sudden and drastic overhaul on Wednesday evening, and the latest version scraps legalization in favor of expanding existing decriminalization laws.
The bill passed by the Senate earlier this year sought to bring the state’s thriving cannabis industry above board, and would have allowed licensed growers to cultivate marijuana, and retail outlets to sell the drug legally.
Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, says it became clear in recent days that she didn’t have the votes to pass the Senate proposal. Her committee has instead produced an alternate plan that would decriminalize the cultivation of up to two marijuana plants.
“So this is a way to continue the good work of decriminalization, to provide fairness to people who really can belong in that [decriminalization] system,” said Grad.
Vermont decriminalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in 2013 but retained criminal penalties for cultivation.
Matt Simon is the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that has been leading the legalization effort.
“We would like to see a regulated market, and the bill they’re talking about today doesn’t have anything about a regulated market,” Simon says. “At the same time, we believe people should be able to grow a limited supply of their own plants and this bill would take the state in that direction, which the Senate bill didn’t do.”
The House version of the bill would allocate $350,000 for a marijuana prevention program geared toward young Vermonters. It also sets legal limits on the amount of cannabis people can have in their system while driving, and ratchets down criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or more of cannabis.
Under existing law, people receive a civil citation for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis. Under the House bill, they’d also receive only a civil citation if they’re caught with two plants.
Burlington Rep. Chris Pearson, a supporter of legalization, says the new language is a setback but that the fight goes on.
“As long as the discussion is alive and can remain in a productive way, I think that’s a good thing, even if it seems like what the House will consider falls short of where I think we should go,” said Pearson.
The House Judiciary Committee will likely vote on the new version of the bill on Friday. It's unclear if the latest proposal has the support it will need to pass through the House.
If it does, then House and Senate lawmakers will have to reconcile the competing versions of the bill.
This story was originally published with the headline House Scraps Plan For Marijuana Legalization, Instead Expands Decriminalization Laws.