Vt. House snuffs out pot legalization and homegrown proposals


Proponents of a marijuana bill struck out three times Tuesday afternoon.

The House overwhelmingly defeated a proposal from the Senate that would have legalized marijuana in Vermont by 2018. The House voted 121 to 28 in a roll call to reject S.241, which would have created a framework for retail sales of pot.

Representatives then defeated a statewide, non-binding referendum on marijuana legalization during the August primary.

In a final blow, the House struck down a "compromise" measure that would have decriminalized cultivation of two plants for personal use. That failed 77-70, with Progressives supporting, Republicans opposing, and Democrats split.

The triple defeat effectively kills marijuana legalization this year. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn by May 7.

It is a major defeat for proponents of legalization who pinned their hopes on Vermont as the first Legislature to eliminate the prohibition on marijuana sales in New England. Connecticut and Rhode Island legislatures are considering legalization measures this year. Massachusetts and Maine are taking the issue to the ballot box.

The biggest backer of the legalization bid was Gov. Peter Shumlin. He preferred the Senate version of the bill, which would have allowed the Department of Public Safety to issue 17 licenses to marijuana cultivators, 15 retail licenses and five laboratory licenses in 2018. The number of licenses would double in 2019.

"The War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition has failed," Shumlin said. "I want to thank those House members who recognize that and worked to move this issue forward. It is incredibly disappointing, however, that a majority of the House has shown a remarkable disregard for the sentiment of most Vermonters who understand that we must pursue a smarter policy when it comes to marijuana in this state."

The Senate's marijuana bill also would have prohibited Vermonters from growing their own marijuana. A temporary marijuana program review commission would have studied whether Vermont should legalize homegrown pot.

The Senate passed the bill Feb. 25. After the House watered it down, the Senate used a procedural move Wednesday to force the House to vote on the bill.

Local uniformed police officers from around the state who opposed legalization have been a presence in the Statehouse for the past few days. Lobbyists for and against the measure have also prowled the halls, leaning on lawmakers to vote for and against.

In the end, House Speaker Shap Smith was right. He has said all along that he didn't have the votes on the floor for marijuana. He went so far as to suggest on Monday that proponents push for a referendum instead.

But even a statewide, nonbinding referendum — offered by a Republican House Minority Leader Don Turner — didn't have gas in the House. The measure failed 97-51, largely along party lines.


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