Home-grow pot bill faces committee hurdles
MONTPELIER >> When House lawmakers come back to Montpelier this week, they'll return to another new version of the marijuana bill.
Late last week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved an amendment offering a new take on what legalization might look like in the Green Mountains.
The amendment, crafted by Reps. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, and Sam Young, D-Glover, passed the committee on a vote of 7 to 4 Friday afternoon.
Under the committee's version, households could legally possess and cultivate up to two marijuana plants if they have a permit from the Department of Health.
The license would cost $125 annually and would raise an estimated $450,000. Those figures suggest the committee is expecting 3,600 households to obtain permits.
The largest chunk of the revenue — about $350,000 — would go to fund education and prevention efforts to reduce substance abuse. The remainder would fund a marijuana advisory committee with the task of making policy recommendations on several issues related to pot.
The legislation still faces a significant hurdle before it can get a hearing on the House floor. It needs to go through one more committee first: House Appropriations.
According to Speaker of the House Shap Smith, the members of Appropriations will decide the fate of the bill by the end of the week. If they vote in favor, it will go to the floor. If they don't, it could die in committee.
The members of that panel gave the bill a chilly reception last week during a walk-through of the version that passed the House Judiciary Committee one week earlier.
The tax committee's amendment represents a significant shift from that stripped-down version.
House Judiciary never voted on any provisions to legalize marijuana, and it voted down an amendment that would decriminalize possession of two plants.
Ancel, the chair of Ways and Means, said the committee was given a bill with a significant level of spending, largely aimed at bolstering drug education and prevention measures, and set out to find a way to raise the necessary revenue.
"It's true that the bill that we voted out is a significant policy position, and it's probably a little more that way than we typically do," Ancel said. "But revenue always involves policy."
She pointed to a measure that passed the House earlier this year to tax e-cigarettes as an example.
Ancel said she would not feel comfortable supporting the bill the Senate approved. That version created a licensing system for commercial retailers and growers of marijuana. She would like to see a regulatory structure with more direct involvement by the state, like the model for liquor control.
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