There’s still hope for legalizing marijuana

 In Legalization, Local News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana

It was a bit of a buzz kill when Vermont’s House Judiciary Committee missed a key deadline last week on a bill that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Fortunately, H.170 was granted an extension, approved by the committee on Wednesday, and now heads to the House floor for a vote.

The legislation would remove all civil and criminal penalties for adult possession of up to an ounce of pot. It also would allow Vermonters to have up to two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is punishable by a civil fine.

Some say the proposed bill doesn’t go far enough because it does not create a regulated market involving legal sales and taxation. Rep. Janssen Willhoit, R-St. Johnsbury, raised concerns that without a regulated system, Vermonters would have to either grow it themselves or go to the black market.

Perhaps that’s true for northern Vermonters, but here in Windham County all they would have to do is drive a few miles down the road into Massachusetts, where marijuana was legalized last year. It won’t be long before retailers start selling it just across our border. The concern here is over the loss of all that potential business and tax dollars to our southern neighbors. Our retailers already feel the pain of our proximity to tax-free New Hampshire to the east.

That’s not to say that marijuana should be legalized solely for business and tax purposes, of course. We have argued extensively on this page that legalization is long over due from a criminal justice standpoint. Studies have long debunked the myth that marijuana is in league with or a gateway to more serious drugs like heroin, which has become the real scourge on our communities. It would be better to use our limited law enforcement resources and prison space on the hardcore heroin dealers.

An effort to create a fully regulated marijuana market in Vermont failed in the last legislative session because many preferred a go-slow approach to see how legalization is fairing in other states. And, with a new president in the White House there’s still the uncertainly over the future of the federal government’s stance on marijuana legalization.


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