Marijuana

The number of people who can obtain medical marijuana would increase under a bill that has now passed the Legislature and is on its way to the governor for his signature.

The bill also calls for a study to determine how much money the state could reap in new tax revenue if marijuana is legalized in the future.

Under Vermont’s current medical marijuana law, no more than 1,000 people can be registered to receive marijuana in total from the four dispensaries in the state. Those dispensaries are located in Burlington, Montpelier, Brattleboro and Brandon.

Could the state of Vermont collect millions of dollars in new tax revenue if the sale of marijuana is legalized? A majority of House members want to know the answer to this question.

The marijuana study is part of a larger bill that deals with the operations of the state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries.

Two states have legalized marijuana, Colorado and Washington, and they’ve imposed sizeable taxes on a variety of marijuana products.

This year, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. But some say that doesn’t go far enough and they’d like to see marijuana legalized.

Richard Van Wickler agrees. Why his pro-legalization stance stands out from others is that he’s a 20-year veteran of law enforcement. He serves as prison superintendent for the Cheshire County (NH) Department of Corrections. He speaks for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and he joined VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb.

Kirk Carapezza / VPR

In August, the US Justice Department issued a memo clarifying that it would not sue to block laws in 20 states that legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. Vermont legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011 and the first dispensaries opened this summer. Governor Peter Shumlin and Health Commissioner Harry Chen have both been on the record saying they're open to fully legalizing marijuana in this state at some point in the future.

Washington State Liquor Control Board

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.”

Vermont is now the 17th state to get rid of criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Governor Peter Shumlin signed the measure into law Thursday.

The law replaces criminal penalties with civil fines, similar to a traffic ticket, for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish.

Gov. Peter Shumlin is planning to sign a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill would replace criminal penalties with civil fines similar to a traffic ticket for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

The bill signing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the Statewide Criminal & Juvenile Justice Training Conference at the Inn at Essex in Essex Junction.

Toby Talbot / AP File Photo

Lawmakers agreed on Monday to decriminalize the possession of small amounts marijuana.

The move comes just months after Colorado and Washington State took the issue a step further and legalized pot.

Right now, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in Vermont is a misdemeanor that can result in six months in jail for a first offense – two years for subsequent offenses.

Toby Talbot / AP

House Speaker Shap Smith is optimistic that legislative leaders will wrap up a budget bill by the end of the day. If that happens, the Legislature is on track to adjourn the 2013 session Tuesday evening.

But the two-day timetable depends on whether Democrats in the House and Senate and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin can agree on a revenue package.

The tax-writing committees have been busy on an income tax proposal they say is revenue neutral. The plan would lower taxes for 250,000 filers but raise taxes on about 15,000 upper-income earners.

The Senate passed over more controversial items on its agenda Wednesday morning, including a bill that would allow child care workers to unionize and the end-of-life bill that has resulted in several stalemates. Those bills were likely to be taken up later in the afternoon.

The Vermont Legislature is one step closer to decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval to legislation that would make it a civil offense rather than a crime to possess one ounce or less of pot. The vote was 24-6.

The Senate version slightly amends the bill that overwhelmingly passed in the House last month, adding a new system for penalties for people under 21.

In the House and the Senate, supporters have made it clear that this bill would not legalize possession of marijuana in Vermont.

A key panel is sending to the House floor legislation that would require labels on genetically modified food sold in Vermont.

The House Judiciary Committee voted, 7-4, on Tuesday to advance a bill that would prohibit the use of the term “natural” on the labels of foods, while exempting meat and dairy that has been fed genetically engineered grains.

The Vermont House is expected to advance today a bill that allows those who may be in this country illegally to apply for the right to drive.

The bill would create what are described as drivers’ authorization cards, allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue IDs that would look different from a regular state license.

The Vermont Senate is set to give final approval on Friday to a bill that's intended to bolster Vermont’s response to prescription drug addiction by providing wider access to the state’s drug monitoring system.

Supporters of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in Vermont are one step closer to their goal.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted, 4-1,  to advance the House bill that would make it a civil offense – instead of a crime – to possess one ounce or less of marijuana.

Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears was opposed until his Committee amended the bill for the state to treat people under 21 the same for possession of marijuana as for alcohol.

AP/Toby Talbot

It promises to be another busy week at the Statehouse. As the House and Senate burn down the clock on the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers will spend a lot of time on the floor debating spending and policy priorities.

The end-of-life choices bill is back on the calendar this week as the House Judiciary Committee considers a number of amendments.

The push to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana has hit a snag in the state Senate.

A bill passed by the House earlier this month that would make it a civil offense – instead of a crime – to possess one ounce or less of pot could get a makeover in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Vermont Statehouse dome on a cloudy day.
Kirk Carapezza / VPR/file

Here’s a brief look ahead to the week at the Legislature:

A bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana is set for final approval in the House on Tuesday.

Last week, the House voted 98-to-44 for a bill that would decriminalize –make it a civil offense rather than a crime – to possess a limited amount of marijuana.

A bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana is expected to come up for a final vote in the House next week before moving to the Senate. VPR's Bob Kinzel talks with Peter Biello about the argument the bill's opponents are making.

UPDATE 1:48 p.m.: After three hours of debate, the Vermont House votes 98-44 to make it a civil offense to possess one ounce or less of marijuana.

ORIGINAL POST 11:50 a.m.: Supporters of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana appear poised to clear a major hurdle. The Vermont House is set to vote today on a bill that would make it a civil offense – rather than a criminal one – to possess one ounce or less of the drug.

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