In the United States, citizens of Washington DC, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State all voted in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis. The next state to join the marijuana movement might be Vermont, but they are taking a different route. Instead of the voters, it is Governor Peter Shumlin and the state Legislature who are discussing the bill. Vermont may be the first state in which lawmakers, not voters, legalize marijuana.

Vermont has a slightly different state Constitution than most other states like Colorado and Washington. The Green Mountain State prohibits ballot referendums and initiatives by voters. In other words, if Vermont wants to change a law, like the prohibition of marijuana, that decision has to come directly from the lawmakers, not voters.

David Zuckerman, a progressive senator from the state’s most populous county, is in charge of introducing the legalization bill to the state Legislature. Zuckerman is proud of Vermont’s ability to have an open door policy for its 439,734 registered voters. “It’s pretty easy to give us a call, and we’ll call you back,” Zuckerman says. Zuckerman and his associates are confident that they are representing the citizens’ best interests with this bill. “I think there is a wait-and-see attitude on the part of many,” Zuckerman said. “There’s also a let’s-get-there-and-get-it-done attitude.”

Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT, does not think that the state lawmakers are ready for a change in legislation. “My sense is the Legislature here will move toward legalization, but not for two or three years so they can learn more from the experiences of Washington and Colorado,” he said.

George Merkel, on the other hand, opposes the legislation entirely. Merkel, who is the president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, thinks that the Legislature is only motivated by the potential profit of legalizing marijuana, not because that is what the citizens want.

The Pros and Cons

A report commissioned by Governor Shumlin concluded that Vermont’s marijuana taxes could generate as low as twenty million dollars to as high as seventy five million dollars per year. Additional income could come from another “pro” — an increase in tourism. Vermont would potentially have a monopoly over other north eastern states if they act quickly. Smokers in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and basically any recreational cannabis user east of the Mississippi River and north of DC would likely travel to Vermont. However, lawmakers are conscious that this pro could quickly turn into a con if other nearby states decide to participate. Their neighbor, Rhode Island, is also considering a similar bill.

“Over the next two years, as more states gear up to consider legalization ballot measures, I predict that more governors, and even some U.S. senators, will say that it’s time to end marijuana prohibition,” said Tom Angell of the pro-legalization Marijuana Majority. “Polls now consistently show that a majority of voters supports legalization, and there’s a growing expectation that elected officials will finally start to address this issue in the way their constituents have been demanding.”

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