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Marijuana Decriminalization Comes Up For Final Approval

Vermont Statehouse dome on a cloudy day.
Kirk Carapezza

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.

After the vote, Speaker Shap Smith, who had once blocked the decriminalization debate from coming to the floor, told VPR that if the House had held this vote last year he doesn’t think there would have been such strong, tri-partisan support.

“I think the work has been done and the support of the [Judiciary] Committee was strong,” Smith said. “There are some items that we could tighten up a bit, but I think overall the bill is a good one.”

The measure is expected to pass on Tuesday, but not before its opponents offer a number of amendments, including one that would drop the limit from one ounce to one-quarter ounce.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to take testimony and debate a companion decriminalization bill.

Also in the Senate, lawmakers are working on a campaign finance bill that would ban corporate and union contributions to state political candidates. It also strengthens reporting requirements.

The Senate will read the bill for a third time tomorrow, and there are no amendments listed. But with this bill you never know what’s going to happen.

Looking at the legislative calendar, it appears to be another busy week in the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Lippert, has been joking to his committee that there’s no shortage of controversial issues, and that’s certainly the case this week.

First, the committee will look at a bill from the Senate that would consider the financial cost of criminal sentencing. Then, it’s “Death With Dignity” or “physician-assisted death,” depending on where you stand on the issue. This is the bill that would allow terminally-ill people to end their lives by requesting lethal doses of medication from physicians.

In February, as you remember, senators who supported the underlying bill said amendments approved on the Senate floor weakened the bill and stripped it of key safeguards. So they voted against it. Supporters of the bill, though, still hope the Vermont House can manage to revive the legislation. And there’s another public hearing on the bill from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the House Chamber at the Statehouse.

On Wednesday, the House will take up a bill that would create a panel that would appoint the Vermont National Guard’s Adjutant General, changing the way the Legislature picks the leader of the Guard.

F-35 critics are taking this opportunity to add amendments that call for a public hearing prior to a final decision on basing the F-35 at Burlington International Airport. The debate comes as Senator Patrick Leahy is responding today to a report that Vermont has already received preliminary approval to base the F-35 fighter jets, months before any official announcement from the Air Force is made public.

You can listen to debates on the full House and Senate floor by following our legislative streams here.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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