BENNINGTON >> A bill to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and regulate its sale for recreational use cleared one of its first hurdles on Friday.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary voted 4-1 in favor of advancing S.241. Senator Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, voted against it, said Senator Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who is chairman of the committee.
The bill will now go before the Senate Committee on Finance, said Sears, then to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
The entire judiciary committee voted in favor of adding a list of amendments that would put the bill in keeping with that Governor Peter Shumlin said he will support, according to Sears.
He said that while the bill would be a major shift in public policy, if it passes as written now not much changes in terms of marijuana's legality in Vermont. This bill removes civil penalties for possession up to an ounce by those over 21. It also calls for the Department of Public Safety to create and enforce rules for cultivators and sellers.
Language in the bill, as it stands now, effectively bans the sale of "edibles," except by existing medical dispensaries who keep it in child-safe packaging. Selling and growing marijuana without a license would remain illegal — Sears said he would not support a bill that allows "homegrown" marijuana — and those under 21 are not allowed to possess it, nor are they allowed on the premises of establish that sell marijuana. Such establishments are also not allowed within 1,000 feet of schools or child care centers. Smoking marijuana in public would remain an offense, one towns can opt to punish more severely than the state if they so choose. Towns can also, by majority vote, prohibit marijuana establishments.
Sears said none of the funds generated from taxes and fees resulting from this bill, as written, will be used to support the General Fund. He said 25 percent will go towards addiction treatment, 25 percent to addiction prevention, 25 percent to law enforcement to combat drugged driving, and 25 towards the administration costs the bill generates. What is left over from the latter item will go back to law enforcement agencies.
Sears said he does not view marijuana use as a positive thing, but prohibition is not working. With sales being regulated at legitimate establishments, people can know what they are buying, that the marijuana is not laces with some other substance or contaminated.