The Vermont House rejected a marijuana legalization proposal on Tuesday, scuttling the hopes of legalization advocates for major drug reform after promising votes in the state Senate earlier this year.
If passed, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislature, rather than by referendum. It would also have brought legalization closer to New England, the region considered the next frontier for major marijuana policy reform.
Instead, the Vermont House voted 121-28 to reject a marijuana legalization bill, which was passed by the state Senate at the urging of Governor Peter Shumlin in February. The bill would have legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana for those 21 and older, but it was more restrained than legalization ballot initiatives in many ways: It wouldn’t have legalized edibles, wouldn’t have allowed for home cultivation, and legal sales wouldn’t go into effect until 2018.
Several members said they supported legalization but not the bill itself, especially the lack of provisions for home cultivation, which one member said was “not the Vermont way.”
Others, like state representative Christopher Pearson, said prohibition had failed, and it was time to move forward.
“Constituents want to know: Why do we sit and enjoy delicious Vermont beer and frown on cannabis use?” he asked.
The Jouse will vote later Tuesday afternoon on a compromise measure that would decriminalize marijuana possession and cultivation of up to two adult plants per household.
“I don’t think we want to be in the business of saying that someone who grows a plant for their own use should have a criminal record,” state representative Chip Conquest, who introduced the decriminalization proposal prior to the House vote, said on the floor Tuesday.
The compromise proposal would also fund drug education programs in schools and establish a commission to further study legalization, but the so-called compromise legislation doesn’t look like it will fare much better. On Monday night, house leaders delayed a scheduled vote on the compromise proposal, saying they doubted it had the support to pass.
Tuesday's votes came with only a few days remaining in the legislative session, meaning there won’t be time for the House and Senate to hammer out their differences.
Conquest said, however, that the legislature is merely delaying the inevitable.
“I believe legalization is coming to Vermont,” Conquest said prior to the vote. “I think, because of what’s happening in other state and other countries and because of the nature of Vermont, there’s a very good chance that we will be considering legalization for marijuana in the very near future, and I think we should prepare for that.”
Vermont House Minority Leader Don Turner, who opposes legalization, also introduced an amendment that would put a non-binding referendum before voters to gauge their opinion on marijuana legalization. That amendment will also be voted on later Tuesday afternoon.
UPDATE: The Vermont House voted 51-97 to reject a proposal to place a non-binding referendum before voters on marijuana legalization in the August primary ballot.
UPDATE: The Vermont House narrowly rejected a proposal to decriminalize possession/cultivation of up to two adult cannabis plants.