by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — Bill H.241, an act relating to the regulation of marijuana, crossed over from the Senate and landed in the House Judiciary Committee March 15. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington and Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, introduced the bill to the 11 member committee. The senators, who both voted in favor of S. 241, spoke of their reasoning for supporting the bill. However, at least one House member cried ‘foul’.
“I think we need to hear from two who voted against it,” said Sen. Betty Nuovo, D-Addison, who said the bill is coming in slanted favorably and that balance is needed. It narrowly passed the Senate floor by four votes.
Speaking approvingly, Sears described how he started out opposed to ideas contained in recreational marijuana legalization bill S. 241, but then, over the course of six months, changed his mind. Sears said, since tens of thousands of Vermonters used marijuana anyway, the state might as well try to capture the money and use it for addiction prevention. “I disagree with people who think it (marijuana use) will get worse. If we put money into prevention treatment, we will get ahead,” Sears said.
Benning echoed the sentiment. He gave the House Judiciary committee the history of his thinking on recreational marijuana legalization. First of all, Benning assured those present that he did not smoke weed. But, he said, as an attorney, he has seen many lives ruined due to current drug laws that categorize marijuana among other drugs and narcotics. Under current law, “we’ve probably ruined a lot more lives than we have saved,” Benning said. Even so, Benning emphasized that pot should not be used by children.
And, although Benning commented on how it appears the public is conflating the issues of marijuana legalization and opiate addiction, by the end of his presentation, he concluded that the revenues taken in from marijuana retail sales would best be used to prevent and alleviate opiate addiction.
After a brief introduction to the recreational marijuana legalization bill, Benning posed an issue he said did not arise during senate testimony. What should be done if someone over the age of 21, who legally purchases pot, conveys it to a younger person. “If a mother is exposing her child to the substance, that is problematic,” Benning said. Benning pointed out that smoking pot would still be illegal in public, in cars and outside, which suggests the only place that using it legally would be inside one’s own home.
Following the senator’s presentation, representatives asked a few questions.
Tom Burditt, R – Rutland, said his son is a police officer in Seattle, Washington (which has legalized the use of recreational marijuana) and that monitoring improper use while driving is annoying and time consuming. “That is the biggest problem they have: drug recognition. It takes a lot more time and is a lot more cumbersome than a D.U.I,” Burditt said.
From the Vermont Legislative website: Roll Call for the Senate vote on S.241. Those Senators who voted in the affirmative were: Tim Ashe, P – Chittenden; Claire Ayer, D – Addison; Philip Baruth, D – Chittendon; Joe Benning, R – Caledonia; Brian Campion, D – Bennington; Ann Cummings, D— Washington; Virginia Lyons, D – Chittenden; Mark MacDonald, D – Orange; McCormack; Anthony Pollina, P – Washington; John Rodgers, D – Orleans; Richard Sears, D- Bennington; Michael Sirotkin, D – Chittenden; Richard Westman, R – Lamoille; Jeannette White, D – Windham; David Zuckerman, P -Chittenden. Those Senators who voted in the negative were: Rebecca Balint, D – Windham; Chris Christopher Bray, D – Addison; Campbell, Brian Collamore, R – Rutland; Dustin Degree, R-Franklin William Doyle, R – Washington; , Margaret “Peg” Flory, R – Rutland; Jane Kitchel, D – Caledonia; Dick Mazza, D – Grand Isle; Kevin Mullin, R – Rutland; Alice Nitka, D – Windsor; Diane Snelling, R – Chittendeon; Bobby Starr, D – Orleans.