Vermont lawmakers have moved forward with a bill that, if passed, would make theirs the first state to approve recreational marijuana use by legislation, not referendum. The Judiciary Committee of the Vermont Senate voted 4 -1 Friday to advance a measure that would enable residents to possess up to an ounce of pot.
The bill moves on to the full Senate and would then go to the House and Gov. Peter Shumlin before marijuana becomes entirely legal in the state, reported the Associated Press. Medical marijuana was legalized in Vermont in 2005.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the bill is a compromise for advocates. “To proponents, it doesn't go far enough, but there are provisions in the bill that will keep the conversation moving forward to discuss their concerns,” Benning told U.S. News and World Report. “To opponents, the bill goes too far, but if you read the language of this 50-plus page bill you will see that virtually all concerns have been taken into account in a way that enables us to get hold of larger concerns.”
Under the measure, Vermonters could purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries, but would not be allowed to grow their own plants, a provision allowed in Colorado and Washington, which have both legalized marijuana for recreational use.
The vote came one day after a group of health professionals pushed back against the legislation, warning the drug has harmful side effects. Six physician groups in the state joined forces to express their concerns Thursday over the bill.
"I think the public health burden for the state of Vermont is going to increase, and the tax revenues eventually will be far less than the cost to the state," Bertha Madras, a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist, told local news station NECN.
Shumlin said he supports the measure, and hopes to see it move forward through the legislative process, instead of appearing on a ballot.
"This debate is about whether we can take a smarter approach towards marijuana, which is already widely available and used by tens of thousands of Vermonters," the governor said in a Friday press release. "Promoting prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of kids, getting rid of illegal drug dealers, and doing a better job responding to impaired drivers already on our roads, I believe this legislation is a huge improvement on the failed war on drugs. I look forward to working with the Legislature as they continue to debate this issue.”
Four other states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis completely. California was the first state to enact medical marijuana legislation in 1996.