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

Smith Says House Will Debate Marijuana Legalization

A marijuana plant.
Brennan Linsley
Associated Press File
House Speaker Shap Smith said Friday that the House will be debating legalization Monday. The Senate has already passed their version of a bill that would regulate the sale of marijuana starting in Jan. 2018.

House Speaker Shap Smith says the House will debate a bill legalizing marijuana Monday.

Smith says it's not clear if any version of the bill will actually win majority support.

The vote could end the deadlock between the House and Senate over this issue that's been going on for many weeks.

Earlier this session, the Senate passed a bill, known as S.241, which creates a regulatory structure to sell marijuana in retail outlets beginning in January of 2018.

It also asks a special commission to make a recommendation on whether Vermonters should be allowed to grow their own marijuana.

Smith says there's concern in the House about the Senate approach.

“A lot of people have real concerns about the ‘regulate and legalize’ model and they are unhappy with what they see happening in Colorado and Washington," he says. "They think that the market is corporatized and that there's an effort to expand use and people have been really concerned about that."

Two House committees have rejected the Senate approach in favor of a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana.

Last week, the Senate passed its version of the bill again and attached it as an amendment to a criminal procedure bill. Smith says the full House will now consider this issue.

"That will involve whether [S]241 is acceptable to the House and probably will involve a vote on the Ways and Means amendment," says Smith. "I think that's a real possibility on Monday."

Smith says it's not clear if any legalization bill has the votes to win approval in the House and he is concerned about what will happen if all options are rejected.

"My concern has been, and we've been counting this pretty closely, that there just isn't enough support in the House for either model," Smith explains. "And I just don't want to see us have a vote this year that's a negative vote and that people are able to come back next year and say, 'Hey! We voted on this last year, why are we going to do it again this year?'"

"I do think that the current policy is broken and I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to find consensus." — House Speaker Shap Smith

Smith acknowledges that this has been a very difficult issue for the House to deal with this year.

"I do think that the current policy is broken and I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to find consensus," says Smith. "But I think what you would see is that the people in the House who are discussing this and have differing points of views are people of good faith who just haven't been able to reach a consensus on a really difficult issue."

Smith says the House could consider other options during its debate Monday. One would be to hold a non-binding statewide referendum in November to gauge public support for the legalization of marijuana.

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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