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Vt. lawmakers consider decriminalizing pot - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers consider decriminalizing pot

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Tuesday, Progressive Representative Chris Pearson of Burlington and Republican Representative Patti Komline of Dorset introduced House Bill 200. The tripartisan measure with 39 sponsors would transform small-scale marijuana crimes from felonies into civil offenses, meaning those caught with less than two ounces of pot would face a $100 ticket, not a record.

"It'll still be taken pretty seriously for young people. For anyone older than 21, it'll be a minor penalty," Komline said.

Beginning with Oregon in 1973, 14 states have adopted looser pot penalties. But sponsors say provisions decriminalizing small personal grows-- if the language doesn't go up in smoke during the amendment process-- would be unique to Vermont. Pulling from the state's medical marijuana bill, H.200 calls for decriminalizing up to two mature and seven immature plants.

"It's not somebody who's setting up a distribution operation, and that was exactly the point," Pearson said.

Republican Representative Kurt Wright is the only Chittenden County legislator in the House not backing the measure. Wright says after talking with Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling, he's concerned that erasing the possibility of criminal charges could hamper investigations that ultimately uncover harder drugs.

"I don't want to tie the police's hands in any way by this, which I think it potentially could," Wright said.

Wright says reform is necessary, and envisions a separate ticket system that leaves criminal penalties on the table.

Supporters say the measure would level the playing field in Vermont, where many areas already have some form of decriminalization.

Vt. House Speaker Shap Smith says he won't block the measure from coming to the floor for debate this session, allowing a full decriminalization debate in the Green Mountain State.

A separate proposal in the Senate also calls for decriminalization, while another calls for full legalization.

Smith says the House bill could get rolled into a larger drug measure, dealing with a range of issues from pot to opiate addiction.

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