With the House Judiciary Committee currently in possession of S.241, the week kicked off with the Montpelier marijuana discussions getting international attention from Reuters, who wondered if Vermont will indeed make legislative history in 2016. A few representatives shared their insights with Heady Vermont, but as Seven Days reported, it’s a deliberative committee and chair.
So when might a bill move through this and other committees? With public testimony scheduled for Thursday, March 31, expect a few more weeks of House deliberation before a potential vote.
Thanks to interviews with the Montpelier Bridge, Vermonters got an updated look into how the four (current) Gubernatorial candidates stand on cannabis. Matt Dunne, the presumptive progressive endorsement, took a conservative tone of support emphasizing prevention to youth under 21 as a condition of a seemingly inevitable process.
Bruce Lisman responded with a few red herrings as to why he’s against it, including the opiate epidemic, and the tax revenue not being as high as expected. (Editors note: He’s correct. Marijuana taxes in Colorado didn’t meet the projected expectations in 2014, the first year of the program when the previous projections were purely speculative. In 2015, with a year’s worth of data, the final tax revenue in CO still exceeded the high expectations.)
Phil Scott affirmed that he’s in no rush to legalize it, using phrases like, “It is far too early,” “I am not saying ‘never’” and “We don’t have to be one of the first on this. I am quite content making sure when and if we do this we have it right.”
And while she’s been a steady, if not vocal, supporter, Dem hopeful Sue Mintner asserted her support adding that as a parent she wants emphasis on education, and that she thinks the “state should begin selling weed on the retail market starting with medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Governor Peter Shumlin, the Chief Chiefer, sparked a fresh weekend reminder of his support for getting legalization done via an op-ed in support of S.241, which currently sits in the House Judiciary Committee. One point of emphasis was the inevitability of Vermont being impacted by Massachusetts, which – bizarrely – resulted in Gov. Shumlin dumping on the Bay State proposal:
“That approach is in stark contrast to the one proposed in the Massachusetts referendum that will be voted on in November, which would allow edibles that have caused huge problems in other states, smoking lounges, home delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana. Vermont’s bill allows none of that. If Massachusetts moves forward with their legalization bill while Vermont delays, the entire southern part of our state could end up with all the negatives of a bad pot bill and none of the positives of doing the right thing.”
He was called out nationally by Marijuana Politics online via Anthony Johnson, an Oregon activist. The irony of Shumlin’s statement is that dedicated, regulated smoking lounges were a popular feature of the original Vermont proposals well before S.241, including the Prog proposals of 2015 that failed to gain traction. What a difference a year makes. [Read this Seven Days article from Feb. 2015 for some historical perspective.]
Meanwhile in the Bay State, their state senate report recommendations (ahead of the November ballot initiative) include a recommendation to increase the tobacco age to 21. This is especially interesting in Vermont in light of a 71-71 tie vote on the House floor that almost abruptly raised the smoking age here to 21, an idea that appears to be gaining momentum.
With the distinct possibility of an approaching ballot initiative, several major groups took stances against marijuana in Massachusetts last week. The state’s county sheriffs spoke out against it, while the Massachusetts Hospital Association’s board of trustees voted unanimously to oppose the measure.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts took advantage of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as an opportunity to run its first major ad on a digital billboard in South Boston’s Seaport district.
“While folks are celebrating with a pint of green beer or a glass of whiskey, we want them to think about the fact that marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance,” Will Luzier, campaign manager for the ballot initiative, said in a statement.
Governor Raimondo told the Providence Journal on Tuesday that she’s open to legalizing recreational marijuana either through legislation or a public referendum.
According to Rhode Island state law, in order for the legalization issue to appear before voters at all, the state legislature must be willing to issue a referendum to consult the public – there is not a voter initiative process that advocates can rely on. In other words, the first steps of reform can only come from state lawmakers.
“I could see Rhode Island eventually getting there,” she said. “But I’m not in a rush because there are issues of safety, how do you regulate it, how do you keep it out of the hands of kids, especially the edibles. I think there probably are some economic advantages to being first, but I’d rather get it right.”
The governor also addressed backlash from the medical marijuana community over a 2017 budget proposal that would force private growers, called “caregivers” under state law, to pay for registration tags for each marijuana plant they grow. The tags would cost between $150 and $350 per plant. Patients have lashed out at the proposal, criticizing the plan as a tax on the sick.