A marijuana legalization bill currently being debated by the Vermont state House of Representatives would make the Green Mountain State the first to adopt such legislation if passed this coming April or May.
Four western states have voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but those measures were all passed through ballot initiatives. Sixteen other states have had similar legislative proposals to Vermont’s, but none have passed their respective state House’s or Senate’s.
Vermont’s cannabis legislation passed the state Senate in February with the public support of Democratic governor Peter Shumlin, but there is still some uncertainty as to whether or not the bill will receive enough votes from Republicans to pass the state House.
A poll conducted in February found that 55 percent of Vermonters agree that marijuana should be legalized, but House Republican leader Donald Turner is still skeptical.
“Many of our members are opposed to this proposal and I don’t know that (the legislation) can be changed enough for them to change their minds,” said Turner. “I don’t feel there is a good argument for legalizing it at this point.”
One reason may be found in a recent study which showed that one of every eight state residents use marijuana recreationally, as do one-third of young Vermonters, age 18 to 25.
“Society for the most part is accepting (the use of marijuana),” admitted Windham Co. Sheriff Keith Clark. “If 12 or 13 percent of the population is not being open with law enforcement when we’re out trying to investigate serious crimes, then that is holding us back from working with our communities.”
The most prominent and maybe the strongest argument against legalization in Vermont is northern New England’s opiate epidemic, which has hit New Hampshire, Maine and parts of Vermont particularly hard.
As a result, Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore, John Campbell, opposes the bill his legislative body passed.
“Shouldn’t we be trying to solve that problem first, before we introduce another drug that all have to admit has mind-altering characteristics?” Campbell asked rhetorically during Senate debate.
Marijuana sales would be subject to a 25 percent transaction tax, the proceeds of which would go toward state funding of drug education for minors and drug rehab programs.
If marijuana legalization is approved by Vermont’s House this spring, the new law would not go into effect until January 2018.
In November, voters in six states will get to decide on marijuana policy through ballot initiatives, including four legalization proposals in Arizona, California, Maine and Massachusetts.
[Washington Post] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy marijuana.com]