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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Leaders Unsure Marijuana Legalization Can Pass In 2016

Angela Evancie
VPR file
Caledona Sen. Joe Benning, right, supports the concept of legalization, but says the legislation is "not quite ready for prime time." Likewise, House Speaker Shap Smith says there are many unanswered questions.

The future of a bill to legalize marijuana is very much in doubt on this first day of the 2016 session. House Speaker Shap Smith says there are still many outstanding questions about the plan, and he doesn't think it's ready for a full debate at this time.

At the end of the 2015 session, many backers of a bill to legalize marijuana were optimistic that their legislation would be adopted in the second year of the biennium, but some of the momentum for the bill seems to be slipping away.

House Speaker Shap Smith says he's generally a supporter of legalization, but he says there are still many unanswered questions with the bill. For instance, who would be allowed to grow marijuana, how would it be distributed to retail outlets, and can law enforcement officials come up with a plan to test potentially impaired drivers.

“It's much more complicated than most people think. It's not just turn a switch on and all of sudden you have legalization of marijuana,” Smith says. “It just doesn't feel like we have done all the work that's necessary to flesh those issues out to pass it this year.”

Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning also supports the concept of legalization, and he says he has many of the same questions.

"I can also see there are things that are not quite ready for prime time. So whether or not that takes up our session or overrides the other concerns that I have is anybody's guess at this point,” Benning says.

The Senate Judiciary committee plans to review the details of the bill in the coming weeks.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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