Attorney general candidate proposes marijuana decriminalization - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Attorney general candidate proposes marijuana decriminalization

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T.J. Donovan T.J. Donovan
Bill Sorrell Bill Sorrell

Making marijuana quasi-legal is now an issue in the race for Attorney General.

Wednesday, Chittenden County Prosecutor and candidate for State Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced his plan to tackle Vermont's growing crime problem.

With ballooning Corrections costs, the Democrat says the state needs to focus more on rehabilitation for non-violent offenders rather than conviction and incarceration.

"It's time that we get smart on crime," said Donovan, "we've demonstrated that we can be tough when we need to be, but we need to be smart because we're wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars on the way we deal with criminal justice."

In part, he suggests decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, instead issuing tickets with fines similar to traffic citations. Many of the plan's finer details still need to be ironed out.

Campaign foe and current Attorney General Bill Sorrell said he's not against such a proposal, but doubts the state would see substantial benefits. Sorrell says small-time marijuana enforcement is not currently much of a priority in the state.

"The simple decriminalization of marijuana is not going to all of a sudden free up all kinds of law enforcement time," he said.

Donovan says the move would prevent minor offenses from following residents their entire lives and exclusion from federal programs. He adds that keeping offenders out of prison, instead providing treatment, would decrease the chances of future offenses.

"I think it's important that the Attorney General lead on this issue and be a leader on the issues of criminal justice," he said.

Sorrell says many minor offenders already receive second and third chances. He added that parole violations are generally the only time simple possesion will land a Vermonter in prison.

Sorrell said he believes other issues should take higher priority, but points out he's not a legislator.  He said he doesn't think it's his place to advocate for a change, but is happy to offer an opinion.

"For whatever reason, the Vermont legislature has thus far not decriminalized marijuana, I'm sure it will be taken up in January and if I was a legislator I would vote for it," he said.

Republican candidate Jack McMullen says he'll need to do more research before coming out with a firm stance. He says the idea sounds promising, though he's not sure it addresses the real problem.

Governor Peter Shumlin and Senate leadership openly support decriminalization. But, if House Speaker Shap Smith doesn't change his mind on the issue, the potential law change may go up in smoke again, as it did this March. 

No matter what the state does, a law change at the Federal level doesn't appear to be forthcoming.
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