A customer walks in to LivWell dispensary in Denver, Colorado. Some Vermont politicians are trying to pass legislation to have Colorado-style retail sales in Vermont. (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Vermont Senate approves cannabis legalization measure, but House a long shot

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A legal-marijuana plan has resurfaced and passed the state Senate on a 21-9 vote on Friday, though it’s highly unlikely the House will follow suit this year.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats revealed they will insert the entirety of a legal-marijuana bill with robust seed-to-sale regulations that failed last year into an unrelated House bill through an amendment.

The House was expected to pass a measure that would have simply legalized small amounts of marijuana and personal growing operations weeks ago, but the bill was sent back to the committee level and has not gained traction since.

“We know people are using marijuana, and we know kids have easy access,” said Democratic Sen. Jeanette White, who read the amendment on the Senate floor. “Let’s make it safer, less accessible to kids, educate them about why they shouldn’t use it along with a lot of other products and impose regulations on what is now an illegal, wide-open market.”

Before the debate, Republican Sen. Peggy Flory tried to kill the amendment. She made an objection to adding the amendment because it was unrelated to the bill it was changing.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who was presiding, agreed after calling a recess to have an informal discussion. For the moment, the amendment was dead.

But then Democratic Sen. Dick Sears called a vote to suspend the rules and in effect overrule Zuckerman, and the Democratic majority forced the Senate to consider the amendment. Sears said there are no hard feelings.

“The appeal of the chair is a rare thing,” Sears said after the debate. “I’ve seen it happen once or twice before, but it is a rare thing. It sets a bad precedent.”

The marijuana legalization measure that passed the Senate on Friday is an updated version of a failed Senate bill from the 2016 session. It’s modeled after Colorado’s legalization system, and it would regulate, tax and legalize small amounts of marijuana.

Businesses would be able to apply for licenses, and people would be able to apply for permits to grow marijuana on their land.

Flory and other Republicans remain unconvinced. They worry that police won’t have a good method of measuring driver impairment.

“We are going down again a dangerous path,” Flory said.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott shares that worry about driver impairment but has said he is not opposed to the idea of legalization.

Senators say they have no hopes that the House will take up the measure this year. They are looking to January, when the bill will be waiting for House members to consider in the second year of Vermont’s lawmaking session.