MONTPELIER -- The Marijuana Policy Project is seeking a part-time organizer in Vermont to build support for a push toward legalization.
Matt Simon, New England political director for the national marijuana advocacy group, said the Vermont organizer will lead a "grass-tops" effort to build on the progress that led the Legislature to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug in 2013.
"That person will build support and focus on some key districts," Simon said. He said he was unsure whether that would mean targeting certain candidates in the fall election. "We'll have to wait and see after the filing date."
Candidates for House and Senate must file petitions to appear on the ballot by June 12.
Simon said that the organizer might focus on finding high-profile, or grass-tops, Vermont supporters of legalization to participate in letter-to-the-editor campaigns and other events. He said the organizer would also begin to line up a series of public forums this summer. He also said there was no set budget for its Vermont effort, but that it would "certainly be limited."
The group intends to support the reintroduction of a bill to legalize marijuana in January. The bill will likely resemble a proposal by Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, that was not taken up last session.
That bill would have created a regulatory framework for the wholesale and retail sale of marijuana through the state Liquor Control Board. It called for a $50 per ounce excise tax on sales and established protections against sale to minors.
"Zuckerman's bill was an excellent starting point," Simon said. "We are looking at the Vermont Legislature to craft a policy that fits for Vermont. We will bring in data, making sure they have all the data produced by reputable parties."
Simon said 2015 might not be too soon for Vermont to consider legalization. He said by then data from Colorado, which legalized pot on Jan. 1, would encompass a full year. Colorado officials say $50 million worth of marijuana were sold in the first three months, creating $7.3 million in state tax revenue (not including sales of medical marijuana and licensing fees), according to Slate.com.
Washington state residents voted to legalize marijuana through a ballot initiative, which won 55 percent of the vote. The retail sale of recreational marijuana in Washington won't take effect until the state's Liquor Control Board has a regulatory process in place, which could take until the end of this year.
Vermont lawmakers approved a bill last session that removed the cap on the number of patients who could qualify for receiving medical marijuana from the state's four dispensaries, but elected not to increase the number of outlets. The bill, S.247, also approved a study on the costs and benefits of legalizing marijuana.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who received $8,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project in the last election cycle, has said he is happy to wait for the results of legalization in Colorado and Washington before pursuing similar legislation in Vermont. He did, however, support the study.
"I think it does make sense for the Legislature to ask 'If we were to go down this route, what would the implications be? What would the revenue impacts be?'" Shumlin said last month.
A recent Castleton Polling Institute survey for the MPP found that 57 percent of Vermonters support legalization and 34 percent oppose. The spring poll surveyed 607 people. National support for legalization has reached 52 percent, according to a recent Pew Research sample, and is growing. That led some Vermont observers to wonder if the liberal state's majority was lower than might have been expected.
"That's in line with what we're seeing nationally, slightly better than the national average," Simon said of the poll results. "It shows that there's not a lot of strong opposition in Vermont."