Legislation and Lobbying

Vermont poised to be first to legalize marijuana through state legislature

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Marijuana leaf

Just hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the Obama-era policy against enforcement of federal marijuana law in states that legalized the drug, Vermont’s House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing personal possession of pot, WCAX reports.

The legislation passed Thursday by a 81-63 vote had been reworked to assuage concerns of Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, who vetoed a similar bill last summer because of potential problems with highway safety and with minors using the drug. WCAX reports that Scott has said he will sign the bill in its current form.

A number of proposed amendments were rejected, including one for waiting until after the release Jan. 15 of a report by the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, and another that would have delayed legalization until police officers had reliable field sobriety tests for pot use.

“It’s leaving things undone,” says Rep. Cynthia Browning, a Democrat from Arlington who is critical of the legislation. “It’s the Scarlett O’Hara approach to legislation—we’ll figure that out tomorrow. You are not protecting the safety of the traveling public.”

Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee members said they will review the amendments this week before sending it to the floor for a vote. The state senate passed last summer’s version and is expected to sign off on the bill.

The legislation would permit adults age 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow their own plants at home—two mature or four immature plants at any given time. It does not create a legal market for the sale of marijuana and does not tax it, the Burlington Free Press reports.

The U.S. attorney for Vermont, Christina E. Nolan, was sworn in last month after being unanimously confirmed with the support of Gov. Scott and U.S. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). The Burlington Free Press reported that Nolan’s workload as an assistant U.S. attorney was focused on prosecuting heroin and opioid cases. She declined to comment on the state’s marijuana legalization debate. As for Sessions rescinding a hands-off policy on states legalizing marijuana, Nolan told the newspaper, “We’re going to use the principles we’ve long used in all drugs cases to prioritize our finite resources.”

If the Vermont legislation is enacted, it will become the first state to legalize marijuana in such fashion. Others have done so through statewide ballot initiatives.

Vermont’s legislative move could set a tone in the battle over legalized marijuana renewed by Sessions. The attorney general compares marijuana to heroin and says it leads to violence. He has expressed a determination to end cannabis legalization.

“Apparently, he’s more troubled by an 80-year-old using medical marijuana to treat a terminal health condition than he is by coordinating election strategy with Russians,” Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P - Chittenden), Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore, said in a prepared statement.

House Majority Leader Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Chittenden) said, “We’re proud to be the first state in the nation to pass marijuana legalization without the pressure of a public referendum.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “When is someone too stoned to drive? The question is trickier than you’d think for courts to answer”

Corrects style for month in third paragraph at 8:32 a.m.

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