Montpelier Sneak Peek: The final fortnight and still no pot


The push to legalize marijuana is racing the clock, and House Speaker Shap Smith says the bill might lose.

"If I were a betting man, I would not bet that there will be legalization within the next year," Smith said.

The marijuana legalization bill is in the House Appropriations Committee, where there is no testimony on it on the weekly agenda.

Smith said Monday that at this point it is not clear there are enough votes in the House to pass any of the versions of S.241. Asked if the bill has support to pass out of the House Appropriations Committee, Smith replied, "At this point in time, no."

The speaker, who has said in the past that he sees marijuana legalization as likely in the near future, said Monday that he'd like some progress to be made.

"I would like to see us advance the issue," Smith said. "I think it's going to require some creativity to figure out how to do that in the next couple weeks" before adjournment.

The Senate could try to attach S.241 to a different House bill to force a vote. But, Smith said, that likely would not be a successful strategy.

"It's not a matter of whether the bill can get to the floor or not," he said. "It's a matter of whether the bill can get off the floor."

One thing is certain, he said. Legislators will not delay the adjournment date in order to reach agreement on legalizing marijuana. And time is running out. Smith would like to bring down the final gavel within the fortnight.

Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, said the Fifth Floor is still optimistic that lawmakers will move forward with a legalization bill this year.

"Things always get tight toward the end of the session, but there's a reason the session doesn't end until it ends," Coriell said.

Coriell said the governor is meeting with lawmakers and speaking with them about the issue.

"We're going to continue to do everything we can to help get a smarter policy across the finish line," Coriell said.

Even without the marijuana bill, the House has a hefty agenda to power through over the next two weeks.

Tuesday is likely to be a lengthy session on the floor as the House works through more than two dozen bills — including the controversial bill on siting energy projects.

Other major initiatives that still need to get across the floor include the privacy bill — legislation that changes policy on cellphone data, automated license plate readers and more — and the opiates bill. That one would, among other things, initiate a rule-making process for limiting the prescription of painkillers around certain procedures.

The money bills will dominate the early part of the week in the Senate.

The upper chamber approved the fee, tax and budget bills Monday in a session that extended into the evening. Those will come up for a third reading Tuesday. Expect to see conference committees forming around the middle of this week to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of each.

Senate committees are still wrapping up work on several major bills that likely will come across the floor later this week. They include the economic development bill, the health care bill and the bill that reforms policies on driving with a suspended license.


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