MONTPELIER — The Senate on Wednesday attached the language it passed earlier this year creating a legal, regulated marijuana market to a House-passed bill dealing with criminal procedures, a move designed to spur the House into action on legalizing pot.
The House has not considered S.241, the Senate’s marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year, on the floor. After being scaled back by the House Judiciary Committee to only include a commission to examine the issue, the House Ways and Means Committee amended it again to legalize up to 1 ounce of pot and the cultivation of two marijuana plants.
The legislation has been stalled in the House Appropriations Committee for nearly two weeks, however. Without the votes to advance it, the committee has opted to let the clock tick down on the legislative biennium.
That has frustrated members of the Senate, who are now looking to force the House to take another look at the legalized, regulated marijuana market they are proposing.
“It was just an attempt to give the House a little nudge and ask them to please vote on the bill and give them an opportunity since it’s clearly hung up in the House Appropriations Committee,” Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said. “With a week-and-a-half left and it still being stuck in House Appropriations, I felt like I needed to do something for those senators who stuck their neck out and voted for it.”
Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith said the maneuver did not come as a surprise.
“I think anybody who’s been around this building would have predicted this would happen if something didn’t come out of the House,” Smith said. “If I were a betting man I would not bet anything would come out of the House.”
The nudge is not likely to produce the action the Senate is seeking. Smith said the House Appropriations Committee lacks the votes to advance the Senate bill. And the House will not approve H.858, the House-passed bill the Senate sent back, with the marijuana language attached, he said.
“There are only a couple of bills that have to pass and they all involve money. This one does not,” the speaker said Wednesday.
The House has several options to deal with H.858. It could concur with the Senate’s proposal of amendment, but that would mean approving legalization of marijuana and will not happen. It could also move to postpone action on the bill indefinitely or vote not to concur and essentially leave the legislation in limbo.
Smith said there will be no up or down vote on the Senate’s legalization language on the House floor. The House may still move forward with its own version of S.241, though, and create the commission to study legalization.
“My sense is that there are a lot of people who have been unwilling to move S.241 because they thought that it would be a vehicle for legalization and regulation and they didn’t want that to happen. I think that people are now discovering there’s more than one way that this can hit the House floor. We can’t avoid the question,” he said.
Too many House members remain wary of legalizing marijuana, according to Smith. Passing a scaled-back version of S.241 and creating the commission is likely the only step forward on the issue this year, he said.
“If we’re not going to legalize and regulate, my view is we need to pay attention to what’s happening around us in neighboring states and provinces and understand that this is an issue that we need to deal with,” he said. “If we have questions that need to be answered then I think we need to figure out to answer those questions.”
Sears said he will not attach the legalization language to any other legislation. He considered attaching it to a House-passed bill that seeks to ease civil traffic fines and license suspensions, but was convinced by advocates not to.
“It’s up now to the House to decide how to deal with it, but it’s there,” he said.