MONTPELIER, Vt. — When the legalization bill, H.170 failed to make the ‘crossover’ deadline, state and national media took notice: “Prospects for Marijuana Legalization Dim,” said VTDigger on Sunday; “Still Alive But Lacks Strong Support” said Seven Days last Friday.
On Wednesday, that pessimism was reversed when the House Judiciary Committee passed H.170 by a vote of 8-3 to send the bill to the House floor, where it is expected to be voted on early next week. The version of the bill that passed would remove criminal and civil penalties for possession of one ounce of personal possession and home cultivation of up to two mature and four immature cannabis plants.
As of publication of this story, the Associated Press is reporting that the bill is slated for a full House vote on Friday. However, well-placed sources predict that that the floor vote is more likely to happen on Tuesday than Friday, although that decision has apparently not been made.
Director Laura Subin of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana praised the work of the committee in extending the deadline to prevent the bill from dying without a floor vote:
“We are very encouraged by the vote in the Judiciary Committee today. The extra time they took to hold the vote gave them time to work with their colleagues and answer their questions. I think it is a very encouraging sign for the prospects of the bill on the floor.”
When a bill isn’t passed by either the House or Senate by the ‘crossover’ deadline in March, it’s typically assumed that it doesn’t have enough support to pass a full floor vote. While legislative leaders would typically rather revisit a bill next year than see it fail–especially one as high profile as legalization–the decision to extend the deadline was supported by statements of Senator Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and other legislative leaders who indicated an interest in seeing the issue come to a full floor vote.
— Heady Vermont (@HeadyVermont) February 9, 2017
When last year’s Senate-sponsored marijuana bill, S.241, eventually came to the full House for a vote, a common complaint from House members who voted against the bill was a stated lack of time to consider the issues. To address those concerns, the 2017 legalization bill started in the House, but because it doesn’t include new taxes or revenues, has remained in the same committee since introduction in early February.
Still, Subin noted that although H.170 has remained in the same committee, the push for legalization has intensified, not slowed overall, and that legislators have been better prepared to examine a simplified bill.
“I believe that there has been ample time for legislators to understand what they need to know about this relatively straightforward criminal justice reform bill. It is the next logical step to follow three years of experience with decriminalization, which is widely viewed as an extremely successful reform. Vermonters deserve to know how their representatives will vote on this important issue so I think the vote on the floor is widely anticipated and not a moment too soon.”
Another key difference from the 2016 legalization efforts was the support of a wider scope of cannabis advocacy groups, including Vermont Home Grown, who last year initially supported S.241, but changed positions when they felt the bill became too corporate and eliminated home grow provisions.
This year, the leaders of the grassroots advocacy group — many of whom are registered medical marijuana patients — were enthusiastic and outspoken supporters of the legalization bill and issued a statement to Heady Vermont:
“Vermont Home Grown is appreciative of the work done by the House Judiciary Committee, other house members and advocates. We thank the Senate Rules Committee for allowing H.170 to be voted on after missing crossover. H.170, when passed, will begin the process of normalizing the personal use of cannabis and give all Vermonters access to low cost cannabis for medical conditions not included in the medical program.”
Sources in Montpelier close to the legislative process tell Heady Vermont that the vote tally is extremely close with less than ten votes expected to decide the final outcome. Subin reiterated that point noting at although they are optimistic, it’s still critical for advocates to seize the momentum and contact their representatives.
It is critical for Vermonters to speak out right now and let legislators know that it is time to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and stop punishing adults for making the safer choice than consuming alcohol.
Representatives who voted for H.170: Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Wells River), Rep. Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland), Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), Rep. Kimberly Jessup (D-Middlesex), Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-So. Burlington), Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), and Rep. Barbara Rachelson (D-Burlington).
Representatives voting against H.170: Rep. Eileen Dickinson (R-St. Albans), Rep. Gary Viens (R-Newport), Rep. Janssen Wilhoit (R-St. Johnsbury).
This story will be updated with additional quotes and confirmation of floor vote date.