Instead of collecting signatures and going through a long and expensive campaign process, Vermont has been pursuing a purely legislative path towards legalizing marijuana.
Over the past year, state legislatures have been mulling over the details of the bill that would legalize marijuana in the Green Mountain State. It would outlaw citizens from growing cannabis at home as well as the sale of edible products. Like other states who have successfully passed legislation, a 25 percent sales tax on marijuana would fund regulation and enforcement.
“It makes for a much more thoughtful and measured approach,”
said State Senator Jeanette White, who sponsored the senate bill. “We got to work out the details, we got to ask the questions first and put the whole infrastructure in place before it happens.”
The state commissioned a study by the Rand Coproration in 2015, which indicated that one out every eight residents in Vermont already use marijuana. Due to the high use of cannabis in Vermont, and the general increase in adult use and support for legalization (58 percent) in the United States, legislators and law enforcement have both commented on the need to support public interest instead of fighting against it.
“If it’s one in eight, to me that tells me that we need to change, that society for the most part is accepting it,”
said Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark.
“If 12 or 13 percent of the population is not being open with law enforcement when we’re out trying to investigate serious crimes, then that is holding us back from working with our communities.”
The bill faces a few key obstacles. First, the bill must be passed by the current legislative session on or the end of May in order to move forward. Governor Peter Shumlin, who is finishing his final year in office, has announced his support for legalization and is pushing for a resolution by the May deadline.
Second, the bill faces strong opposition from conservative politicians. “Many of our members are opposed to this proposal and I don’t know that it can be changed enough for them to change their minds,” said Representative Donald Turner, the House Republican leader. “I don’t feel there is a good argument for legalizing it at this point.”
These sentiments are shared by groups who view marijuana as simply another drug in a state that also suffers from the opioid epidemic.
“The questions that keep coming up for me is, how will this make Vermont healthier and how will this improve the quality of life? I don’t think this bill does it,”
said Debby Haskins, executive director of Smart Alternatives for Marijuana-Vermont. “It’s the wrong direction for us to be heading.”
Despite this, other states are already investigating marijuana’s ability to treat opioid addiction.