- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Vermont lawmakers are expected to consider a recreational marijuana bill this week that would make The Green Mountain State the first in the nation to legalize weed with its legislature rather than a voter referendum.

The Vermont House of Representatives begins its 2018 legislative season on Wednesday, January 3, and its members may vote as early as Thursday on a marijuana bill nearly identical to one that previously passed the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott previously said he’d sign the bill if and when it lands on his desk, making Vermont a likely addition to the growing list of states that have legalized recreational marijuana assuming its House votes affirmatively.

Efforts to legalize marijuana in Vermont have stalled in the past, however, and Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson was reluctant to say the measure being considered this week is sure to succeed.

“We’ll see,” Ms. Johnson told The Associated Press with respect to the bill’s prospects for passage. “People have been gone from Montpelier for a long time. We’ll see how things sugar off on Thursday.”

“If it’s going to be legalized … we can’t stop it. I don’t like it,” added state Rep. Don Turner, House minority leader. “But we are going to look at, definitely, some amendments to see if there is anything else we can add or modify.”

Vermont became the first in the country to legalize marijuana through its legislature rather than a ballot measure back in May, but Mr. Scott vetoed the bill two weeks later over public safety concerns. The state Senate subsequently passed a rewritten version addressing Mr. Scott’s concerns, but the state House failed to bring that bill up to a vote during a special veto session in June and punted until 2018.

In the interim Mr. Scott established a commission in September tasked with studying the state’s options for legalizing marijuana, and last month he said he was “comfortable” signing a recreational bill into law in 2018.

“A number of states have already legalized it surrounding us,” Mr. Scott told Vermont Public Radio last month. “Whether we like it or not, it’s here and it’s being utilized, so we have to take steps to promote the general public.”

Voters in eight states and D.C. have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana, including six where cannabis can be legally bought and sold at state-licensed dispensaries – Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state – notwithstanding the federal government’s decades-long prohibition on pot.

The bill approved by the Vermont Senate last year would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis and the cultivation of up to four plants effective July 2018. Its passage wouldn’t immediately put in place a plan for taxing and selling the plant like the six states with existing commercial cannabis markets but could pave the way rather for a retail system down the road.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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