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After a complicated marijuana legalization bill failed in 2016, a new bill would legalize up to 1 ounce of marijuana and allow Vermonters to grow several plants for personal use. The new bill is simpler, by design.
AKI SOGA/FREE PRESS

Note: The Senate proposal would create a group named the Marijuana Regulatory Commission. The name of the group was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.

MONTPELIER – Lawmakers who are eager to pass some form of marijuana legalization bill this year made one last attempt at compromise Friday afternoon, in the waning hours of the legislative session.

The plan would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants or four immature marijuana plants in July 2018, similar to what the House of Representatives has proposed. In the meantime, the bill would continue moving Vermont toward a taxed and regulated marijuana market, similar to what the Senate has proposed.

The Senate tacked the proposal onto a separate bill by a vote of 20-9.

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“This is an effort to put something that might have an opportunity to pass this session,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who pitched the compromise.

The bill would create a new Marijuana Regulatory Commission, which would draft legislation by November 1, 2017 that “establishes a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market that, when compared to the current illegal marijuana market, increases public safety and reduces harm to public health.” The commission’s bill would be ready for a vote by January 2018.

The House of Representatives voted this week to remove all criminal or civil penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession by a vote of 75-71. The Senate disagrees with the House’s approach and has voted multiple times to create a full regulated marijuana market.

“This amendment attempts to get us a little bit further down the road, not as fast as many of us who’ve been working on this for the last few years would’ve liked,” said Sears, “but at least it moves us forward rather than sitting here, wondering what might happen next January when we come back to deal with this issue again.”

It was not clear Friday afternoon how the House of Representatives might have time to consider the compromise in the final days of the legislative session.

Rep. Thomas Burditt, who sponsored the House’s legalization bill, said he needed to read the Senate proposal but remained wary of anything that would create a regulated marijuana market. Burditt, a Republican from West Rutland, said he continues to support a simple removal of penalties for marijuana possession.

Approximately 42 of the 150 members of the House of Representatives have already signaled support for moving toward a taxed-and-regulated system.

Contact April McCullum at 802-660-1863 or amccullum@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @April_McCullum. 
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