by Carla Occaso
The “pot bill” as it became known — one of this legislative session’s higher profile endeavors — came to a screeching halt in the House chamber Tuesday, May 3 around 5:30 p.m. after a day and a half of full floor discussion. This action came after many iterations and gyrations following testimony and discussion in and out of several Senate and House committees since its January introduction as S.241. Bill S.241, an act relating to regulation of marijuana, was introduced by Senators Jeannette White, D-Windham and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.
If it were adopted, the bill would have allowed regulating the cultivation and sales of retail recreational marijuana. The way it was drafted, it would have required a newly created, tightly monitored governmental structure to oversee cultivation, quality control, youth prevention, increased addiction treatment, law enforcement, retail sales and tourism. This bill forbade home growing and edibles, but instead would have licensed a few large commercial cultivators that would sell through a few retail outlets beginning with the four existing medical marijuana dispensaries. (Montpelier is home to one of the medical marijuana dispensaries.)
When the Legislative session started, S.241 shot through the opening gates, and then grew to 95 pages after it was drafted and amended. It passed out of the Senate and into the House by a vote of 17 to 12 on February 25. But it faltered through the House as the House Judiciary Committee stopped it in its tracks and did a “strike all” that removed all language referring to legalizing or regulating pot. The Judiciary version of the bill addressed prevention and education. It then moved on to Ways and Means committee members, who passed out a bill that contained prevention language and also added in allowing people to legally possess small amounts of marijuana and/or hashish and to grow a couple of plants. This bill went on to House Appropriations where it stayed virtually unaddressed as the end of the session neared.
Finally, Senators Richard Sears, D-Bennington, Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, Jeannette White, D-Windham and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia added the entire S.241 as an amendment to an unrelated House bill on its way back to the House in a manoeuvre to resurrect their version of the bill. It didn’t work. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 121 to 28. Another amendment tacked on to H.858, introduced by Charles Conquest, D-Orange Caledonia, also kept the prevention language, but allowed for possession of up to an ounce of pot and, in addition, allowed people over 21 to grow up to two plants on their property or on the property of someone who gave consent as long as it was shielded from general view. Once the plants are harvested, they must be kept on the property in a secure location. This so-called “Conquest Amendment” failed by a vote of 70-77.
Those in support said legalizing pot would be much better than keeping it illegal. “By allowing people to grow plants for their own personal use, we will slowly decrease criminal activity,” it was said.
This amendment also unleashed a whole new scope of questions from House members, such as:
“Would we allow any types of marijuana grown in Indochina or Southeast Asia? What if we are authorizing invasive species?”
“If you have a federal loan, can you grow pot on the land you took out a federal loan to purchase?”
“If a person gives away marijuana, but asks for a donation would this be a violation of law?”
“Can you advertise giving away marijuana online?”
And many asked about what happens to children and parents if the child sneaks into the parents’ pot stash and brings it to school?
But for now, those questions will remain unanswered as all forms of pot legalization met defeat.