Well, a pair of House committees got out their carving knives and turned S.241, the marijuana-legalization bill, into an unrecognizable mess.
This is a significant setback for legalization. The best hope is that the House passes the bill and then a House/Senate conference committee comes down firmly on the Senate’s side. After that, perhaps the bill could pass muster in the full House. But the outlook is definitely worse than it was a couple days ago.
Earlier this week, House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad proposed, well, a Bizarro World version of S.241. She slashed out the legalization stuff, opting instead for a mild extension of decriminalization that would allow for personal cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. That idea was specifically rejected by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, the primary gatekeeper on the Senate side.
Oh, and she also attached the House’s favorite Action Evasion Tactic — a study commission! Yay!
That was bad enough. But even that bill couldn’t pass the full committee. After Grad’s version failed on a 5-6 vote, the grow-your-own provision got the ax. The study commission, naturally, was spared. The bill also creates a penalty for driving under the influence if a driver has a BAC of 0.05 or higher PLUS any trace of psychoactive chemicals in their system, plus a new crime of making hash oil from marijuana.
VTDigger’s headline calls it a “hollowed-out pot bill,” and that’s pretty much dead on.
The bill has to go through two more committees and the full House. If it gets that far, a conference committee would have to rationalize the two completely different bills. And the key lies in the makeup of such a committee.
Thus, the ultimate fate of legalization would be in the hands House and Senate leadership, who will choose the committee members. John Campbell leans against; Shap Smith is neutral but seems to be edging toward legalization. Governor Shumlin, of course, is strongly in favor of legalization.
It’s not unprecedented for the two chambers to pass very different versions of the same bill and have the conference committee take one side or the other — or come up with something completely different of its own. Legalization is not dead; but this week, it took two steps backward.