MONTPELIER — A Senate committee is completing its deliberations on a bill outlining how marijuana legalization would work, but at least two lawmakers say they will not add their names to the bill.
The Senate Government Operations Committee has been studying the issue of marijuana legalization, forgoing the question of whether it should happen and instead asking how it would work. Now, lawmakers are putting their final touches on a bill that will come not from the committee itself, but will be sponsored by committee members who support the bill’s goals.
“The bill will not be a committee bill but will be sponsored by some of us,” wrote committee Chairwoman Jeanette White, D-Windham, in an email, in which she said the bill must be completed to go to the printer by Friday.
“At that time it is given a number and is an official bill,” White said. “It will be on the floor for first reading (introduction) when we come back. It will go directly to Judiciary.”
It will be the task of the Senate Judiciary Committee to review both this bill and the one offered during the last legislative session by Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, which proposes the legalization and taxation of marijuana.
The bill coming from the members of the Government Operations Committee is not yet public, but a public hearing in November shed some light on what the bill might contain.
During the hearing, lawmakers discussed provisions similar to those governing alcohol in Vermont. Possession and use would be restricted to individuals 21 years old and older; providing marijuana to individuals younger than 21 would be a crime akin to furnishing alcohol to a minor.
The committee also discussed possession limits, to allow a Vermont resident to possess as much as 1 ounce and have as many as six plants; nonresidents would be allow to possess no more more than a quarter of an ounce.
Exactly who among the Government Operations Committee will sponsor the bill remains up in the air. Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said he had concerns with the mechanism within the bill that would channel tax revenue from marijuana sales to law enforcement agencies.
“My personal feeling is we need to get the money moving and available for law enforcement as soon as possible,” said Benning, who has expressed support for legalization but did not confirm he would sponsor the bill.
“I’m not 100-percent certain I will sponsor the bill. There are a lot of unknowns,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, noting questions regarding driving under the influence and limits on the size of grow operations.
However, at least two committee members say they will definitely not sponsor the bill.
“Public health, in my mind is the first priority,” said Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison. “I can’t imagine bringing a bill like that forward without evaluating the health impacts.”
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, said he concurred with Bray’s concerns.
“I’m not sure that sends a good message to the youth in the state,” said Collamore, who said he will not sponsor the bill, either. “We have a serious problem with the opioid problem and the heroin problem, and nobody can say we have a good handle on that.”