Legal pot bills will likely miss key deadline

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MONTPELIER — Two marijuana legalization measures in Vermont's House will likely miss a key deadline Friday to advance to the Senate, hindering their chances of passing this year.

The two bills offer widely differing ways to legalize marijuana. The first measure was introduced in January and allows for personal cultivation of marijuana and legal possession of small amounts, but no regulatory or taxation structure.

A separate measure introduced in February relies on the earlier bill to pass. It would create the regulatory structure for taxing marijuana, but only if marijuana is already legalized by the earlier measure.

Under Vermont's legislative rules, House bills should be out of their committees by Friday — the midpoint of the legislative session — so they can get to the Senate, and vice versa. Neither measure will get out of their committees in time.

The House Judiciary Committee was expected to vote on the earlier legalization measure this week to advance it but shifted focus to other bills.

Democratic Rep. Sam Young is the lead sponsor of the measure that would tax and regulate marijuana. Young's bill has not been considered by lawmakers at all, he said.

Despite the poor signals, a bill is not necessarily dead if it misses the Friday deadline, Young said. If support builds, there are many ways for lawmakers to revive a seemingly dead bill.

Last year, the Senate decided late in the session to put language from a previous marijuana legalization measure into an existing bill, effectively reintroducing a legal pot bill.

But the effort ultimately failed. Senators passed the measure and sent it to the House, which voted it down.

The Senate could do something similar this year and hope for a different result to keep the idea alive, Young said.

"We play by the rules all year long and then on the last few days we suspend them all day long," Young said.

Young said that for something as complicated as marijuana legalization, it's better to take the time to craft a robust law.

"I always said I think it should be a two-year process. I think people should take their time and do it right," Young said.

Another obstacle to legalization is Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who has said he will consider the idea of legalization but wants to put public safety first.

Scott would veto any legalization bill that does not give police a reliable and accurate way to measure driver impairment under the influence of marijuana, he has said.


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