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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

MONTPELIER – The leader of the Vermont Senate says a bill to legalize marijuana is moving so slowly, and has generated so much disagreement among lawmakers, that passage this year would take a “miracle.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said the Senate wants to have a long negotiation with the House of Representatives and Gov. Phil Scott’s administration about the best way to legalize marijuana. The House has chosen a simple legalization bill that is unlikely to fly in the Senate, where lawmakers prefer a taxed and regulated marijuana market.

That long negotiation would be nearly impossible this year.

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The marijuana legalization bill is still being tweaked in the House, weeks after the Senate anticipated receiving it. If a bill passed out of the House this week, the Senate would have almost no time to discuss the issue before their committees shut down for the year.

“It is so disappointing that the House couldn’t pull something together to give to us, even if it wasn’t exactly what they wanted,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, a proponent of a regulated legal marijuana system.

Ashe said the Senate might consider passing its own marijuana bill this year to prompt discussion over the summer and fall. He would also consider working with the House to create an “implementation panel” to work out the details of a regulated market. Alternatively, the whole discussion could wait another year.

“To be honest, I think people are tired of this conversation going on and on and on,” White said. “It’s something that we just need to do.”

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, said she expects the full House of Representatives to vote on a marijuana bill this year.

“Whatever the Senate does with it — that’s their thing,” Krowinski said.

Ashe expects the Vermont Legislature to finish up work this year on May 6 if the state budget continues to move smoothly. Lawmakers are under pressure not to spend taxpayer money by delaying adjournment, Ashe said, but he would extend the date if necessary.

“I don’t think taxpayers would be well served if we were so obsessed with that date that we screwed things up on financial decisions at the end,” Ashe said.

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