It's looking more and more likely that cannabis possession will be legal in Vermont next summer, according to Vermont alt-weekly Seven Days. Legislators have been debating legalization for the past two years, finally passing a legalization measure last year, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. Legislators were unable to revise the bill to the governor's specifications by the end of this year's legislative session, but the bill is scheduled for further debate on January 4th, the day after legislators return to session next year.
"The House will act on something this [coming] year — I suspect quickly," said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, who's reportedly been ambivalent about legalization in the past, to Seven Days. "The majority of the House is ready.” Gov. Scott himself told the paper that he intends to sign a new version of the bill as long as legislators stick to the compromise agreement they made this June. "It depends on the details,” Scott told Seven Days, “but I said before I would sign something of that nature.”
The state Senate challenged the House' version of the bill last year, arguing that the state should fully legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis retail sales instead of just allowing individual possession. It appears that Senators are willing to support the House's version of the legalization bill as a starting point, however, and will push for regulated sales at a later date. "Hopefully, within a year, we would have a tax-and-regulate system," Sen. Dick Sears, chair of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, told Seven Days.
Yet there remain anti-pot advocates, who are hoping for another chance to block any form of legal cannabis. "I don't see it as inevitable," said Kevin Ellis, a lobbyist for Smart Approaches to Marijuana Vermont, who oppose the measure. Ellis claimed that many health professionals and school officials still believe that legalization will encourage minors to use cannabis.
Data from other canna-legal states has not supported this assumption, and even the federal government has found no increase in teen use of cannabis since individual states began legalizing cannabis. Vermont Rep. Maxine Grad, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told Seven Days that she talked with legislators from several canna-legal states this year, which made her confident that Vermont could handle any challenges presented by legal weed.
David Mickenberg, lobbyist for cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, said to Seven Days that more legislators come around every year to the idea that cannabis prohibition is ineffective. "What that means is, people will be talking about marijuana in the context of it being in Vermont already and how can we talk about better protecting health and better protecting kids."