Pot legalization flames out in House

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the House jettisoned a bill Tuesday that would legalize marijuana in Vermont to the Human Services Committee after it became clear that they lacked the votes to pass it on the floor.

The bill, H.170, was expected to finally have its day in the House after previous delays. But Democratic House leaders acknowledged late in the day that support for the measure was wavering. Instead of bringing the bill to a vote it was sent to the Human Services Committee on a voice vote where its prospects, and a timeline for consideration there, are unclear.

The legislation would legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana, two mature marijuana plants and four immature points. Democratic leaders have been struggling for weeks to secure enough voices pass it on the floor, letting it linger in the House Judiciary Committee an extra week before allowing it to advance.

Tuesday’s action to send it to a new committee leaves its chances of passage this year in question. Some supporters lamented that Tuesday’s move would kill it, while others were optimistic that it would still make it back to the floor for a vote.

Rep. Jill Krowinski

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, tacitly acknowledged that the bill lacked enough votes to pass. She said sending it to Human Services “will help keep that conversation going … and see if there’s enough consensus around those members to keep it moving.”

“What we’ve been hearing in this whole debate on legalization is the role of prevention. There are many legislators who feel strongly about legalization but still want to do more around prevention and its my job to be responsive to my caucus. So, at the end of the day, after many, many conversations, we decided if there’s interest in this bill moving forward, that’s where the conversation needs to go,” Krowinski said.

“If we have enough members who still want more time spent on it so that they can support it then that’s what I’m going to do,” she added.

Assistant Majority Leader Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, who is responsible for counting votes in the Democratic caucus, said he expected more support on the floor Tuesday.

“It wasn’t where I thought we’d be this afternoon based on weeks of conversations, but I respect the fact that people were genuinely confronting things in a new way today that maybe they hadn’t before. It’s our job to give them the space to know that they have the tools they need to make the decision that they want to make,” he said.

Rep. Tristan Toleno

Human Services Committee Chairwoman Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, refused several times to say whether she supports the bill. Her support could help ensure it returns to the floor. Pugh said reviewing the legislation in her committee is “the next logical step.”

“I don’t think it helps the conversation for me to come out strongly one way or another because that could impact the discussion,” Pugh, who voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana in 2013, said. “I knew that for me that it was important to have this conversation.”

Pugh indicated that her committee would need some time to review the bill and determine how best to address preventing youth use of marijuana.

“We have a committee of six new members to the committee, four of whom are new to the legislature and so may need some more background information,” she said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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