(John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Vermont bill streamlines recreational marijuana legalization, focusing on home grows

Creating a commercial market while not allowing residents to grow their own pot is not "the Vermont way"

MONTPELIER, Vt. — After a complicated marijuana legalization bill failed last year, a new bill would legalize up to 1 ounce of marijuana and allow Vermonters to grow several plants for personal use.

The new bill is simpler, by design.

“The more conservative it is, the more appealing it will be to people outside this room,” said Republican Rep. Tom Burditt, one of the bill’s sponsors at the House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. Burditt voted against last year’s bill.

The former bill called for a regulatory structure similar to the system in Colorado. If realized, the state would have created a commercial market for marijuana and possibly generated up to $75 million in tax revenue. That bill passed the Vermont Senate, but failed in the House.

The new bill, much shorter in length, would be framed more like the system in Washington DC, where there are no provisions for sales but people can possess and grow small amounts of marijuana.

The biggest obstacle this year will be getting Republican Gov. Phil Scott on board. He opposed last year’s bill, when he was lieutenant governor, and has since raised concerns about legalization.

Scott wants any marijuana legalization law to address public safety concerns, including law enforcement’s ability to test for impairment and keep roads safe, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley.

“We don’t have a method for roadside testing of marijuana like we do alcohol,” said George Merkel, president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police at a recent committee meeting.

Creating a commercial market while not allowing residents to grow their own pot was not “the Vermont way,” said Democratic Rep. Maxine Grad, one of this year’s sponsors.

Eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana, though it remains illegal at the federal level. The most recent states to legalize marijuana were Maine, California, Nevada and Massachusetts, a state that shares part of its northern border with Vermont.

“Vermonters can now easily go down to Massachusetts and get it, then they come back and suddenly it’s illegal. That’s not a dichotomy we want to set up,” said Democratic Rep. Chip Conquest, another bill sponsor.

Prospects for the bill are better than they were last year, Conquest said. It’s likely to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee, he said.

“We have a lot of new members this year and it’s a very different proposal,” Conquest said.