Vermont pot legalization efforts may have been nipped in the bud when the House committee Friday called for more study, but the Senate bill's sponsor remains hopeful. (Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune via The Associated Press)

Have Vermont pot legalization efforts been nipped in the bud?

House legislators stall bill, call for more study; 'long way to go, short time to get there,' says still-hopeful Senate sponsor

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Efforts to legalize marijuana in Vermont this year may have gone up in smoke Friday, as a House committee passed a measure that calls for more study after it stripped out Senate-passed provisions that would tax and license pot growers and retailers.

But the chief sponsor of a Senate bill to allow adults to possess up to an ounce of pot said the effort had not been nipped in the bud. “We have a long way to go and a short time to get there” before lawmakers adjourn for the year in about a month, said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington. “But I always hold out hope.”

Opponents of legal marijuana still saw the House Judiciary Committee’s version of the bill as planting a seed likely to grow into Vermont pot legalization in the near future. It calls for the creation of a marijuana advisory commission that would “propose a comprehensive regulatory structure that establishes controlled access to marijuana.”

“What we’re still concerned about is the commission and its real mission that basically lends itself to saying, ‘Figure out how to legalize,'” said Stephanie Winters, executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Vermont chapter, which opposes legalization.

The committee’s vote followed another that defeated an expansion of decriminalization in Vermont — raising the allowable possession amount that would draw a civil fine from one ounce to two, and taking the same noncriminal approach to possession of up to two plants.

Matt Simon, New England coordinator for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said after the committee’s vote, “It’s very disappointing … the fact that weren’t even able to reach a majority in favor of expanding decriminalization, let alone legalization.”

Measures left in the bill the House committee passed include enhancing education and prevention programs for young people; giving $350,000 to the Health Department for anti-drug education efforts; spending more than $650,000 on a new forensic laboratory, equipment and training for the Department of Public Safety; and raising the threshold between a misdemeanor and a felony for sale of pot from half an ounce to an ounce.

It lowers the blood-alcohol content that triggers a drunken driving charge from 0.08 to 0.05 if the person has any of marijuana’s active ingredient in his or her body. And it creates the seven-member Marijuana Advisory Commission, calling on it to issue recommendations by Nov. 1, 2017.