Pot bill seen as losing steam

MONTPELIER — Legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana has hit a snag as House leaders look to navigate differing views and rally support in the chamber.

The Judiciary Committee was expected to vote H.170 out of committee earlier this week. The bill seeks to legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana and two plants. It would largely follow the policy already in place in Washington, D.C.

The politics behind legalization are tough to navigate, however. The House legalization bill is a second bite of the apple in as many years. Last year, the Senate passed a legalization bill that would have created a regulated retail market. The House overwhelmingly rejected the idea, however, with members expressing different reasons for opposing it. Some were displeased the Senate plan did not allow for homegrown marijuana. Others were opposed to a regulated market because they feared it would lead to large companies dominating the market.

Democrats following the legalization debate this year say the dynamics have not changed much after the fall election. Many House members continue to have different ideas about how legalization should look in Vermont. Some remain firmly opposed to legalization altogether.

One lobbyist working toward legalization said lawmakers always get squeamish when a vote is nearing and this year is no different. Democratic House leaders are working with members to get a sense of how a vote on the House floor would break down. If the Judiciary Committee advances the bill this week it would be up for a vote by the full chamber next week.

House leaders believe they have enough votes in the chamber to pass the measure. But the delay in sending it to the floor for the full House to consider is about convincing even more members to support it so the margin is not as tight.

According to legislative rules, all policy bills are supposed to clear their committees of jurisdiction by Friday, what is known as crossover day. But Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, said Thursday that the legalization bill is “not a crossover priority.” She said the committee believes the Senate will agree to consider the bill if it is sent over by the House at a later date.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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