(Ted S. Warren, Associated Press file)

Vermont House blocks consideration of marijuana legalization bill

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont House has blocked consideration of a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state.

Lawmakers in the House refused to take up the bill Wednesday during a special veto session. It won approval in the Senate on a voice vote earlier in the day.

Gov. Phil Scott now says he’s going to appoint a commission to study the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in the state. Scott, a Republican, said Thursday the commission’s priorities would be to look at ways to ensure public safety and the best way to regulate marijuana.

Senate negotiators had announced Wednesday that they had reached a deal with the governor’s office on the measure.

Negotiators addressed the concerns expressed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott when be vetoed the bill last month that would have made Vermont the ninth state in the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, Democratic Sen. Dick Sears said.

“We just met with the governor, he’s happy,” said Sears, who worked on the issue in the Senate. “We’ve come to an agreement. It’s a bill that he’ll sign if we can get it to him.”

The House would have needed to agree to suspend legislative rules so that it could have been considered during the current veto session.

“I don’t think anyone has an illusion that it won’t eventually pass, but why do we have to do it now?” House Minority Leader Don Turner, a Republican, said earlier Wednesday.

When Scott vetoed the bill last month he said he was not philosophically opposed to marijuana legalization, but he had concerns about public safety, children’s health and how to measure impaired drivers.

Sears said the new version of the proposal addressed those concerns by, for example, creating misdemeanor crimes with no jail times for people using marijuana in a vehicle with children present.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) issued President Kevin Sabet said in a statement: “This is a tremendous victory for public health and safety. Despite the pot lobby’s claims that this was about decriminalization, Vermont already decriminalized marijuana in 2013. This bill was nothing more than a trojan horse for the commercialization of another drug in Vermont. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with parents, law enforcement, and public health specialists in Vermont to support evidence-based approaches to drug policy.”

Sears says he’s still hopeful legalization can happen next year, but says for a law to be ready on July 1, 2018, Republican Gov. Phil Scott would have to appoint a commission to study how to regulate marijuana before lawmakers return to Montpelier in January.

The proposal would have legalized recreational use of marijuana effective on July 1, 2018. It would also create a commission that would develop plans to regulate marijuana.