National group to push for legal pot in Vt.
By PETER HIRSCHFELD
Vermont Press Bureau | September 11,2013
MONTPELIER — A national organization pushing for the reform of marijuana laws says it plans to launch a state-level lobbying effort aimed at legalizing cannabis in Vermont by 2017.
The announcement Tuesday from the Marijuana Policy Project coincides with hearings in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Patrick Leahy cheered the Department of Justice’s recent decision to take a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in the two states that have legalized the drug.
It also comes on the heels of comments from Gov. Peter Shumlin, who said last week not only that he was open to starting the legalization debate, but that he didn’t want to allow much time to elapse before Vermont adopted the kinds of laws passed by referendum in Colorado and Washington.
“Vermont is a state that does have medical marijuana, that has passed decriminalization, and those are factors, including the governor saying he is open to the debate, that make us think it’s a good conversation to have in Vermont,” said Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.
MPP, based in Washington, D.C., has spent thousands of dollars — between contributions to statewide and local candidates and contracts with a Montpelier lobbying firm — on marijuana reform efforts in the Green Mountain State.
The group helped underwrite a years-long Statehouse lobbying campaign that earlier this year bore fruit with the enactment of a decriminalization statute that eliminates criminal sanctions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and replaces them with a $300 civil fine.
Simon said he has spoken with state legislators in advance of the next legislative session, and he expects to see the Vermont Senate debate a bill, shelved last year, that would establish a study committee to explore the risks and benefits of legalization.
“I think the study is good way to move forward and see what various stakeholders have to say,” Simon said.
In a statement included in the MPP release Tuesday, Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, a Progressive from Orange, said legalization makes sense both for law enforcement and the fiscal bottom line. Prohibition, Davis said, “has no effect on availability and only enriches criminals.”
“If we tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, we can save our limited law enforcement resources while creating local jobs and tax revenue,” she said. “It is time for a sensible approach on this issue.”