Lawmakers look at loosening Vt. marijuana laws - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Lawmakers look at loosening Vt. marijuana laws

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Thursday, Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn illustrated the difference between 1 ounce and 2 ounces of marijuana for the House Judiciary Committee. The legislators are taking testimony on replacing criminal penalties for relatively small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine of $100.

Flynn says any drug reform must include education, rehab, and allow law enforcement to focus on bigger priorities.

"This enables us to accomplish those tasks," Flynn said.

As currently written, House Bill 200 would decriminalize up to 2 ounces of pot, two mature plants and seven immature plants. Tickets would not land on a user's criminal record.

Flynn says he supports decriminalization, but the cutoff should be 1 ounce. He thinks plants could get gardeners into sticky situations.

"If they happen to mature at the same time, we're essentially walking people into a felony conviction and I don't believe that's the purpose behind it," Flynn said.

The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Chris Pearson, says the bill's purpose is to ensure a minor marijuana charge doesn't derail the lives of offenders or consume significant police resources. He says in practice, prosecutors and law enforcement have already implemented a degree of decriminalization.

"But this bill makes sure that the law would be applied equally and evenly across the state," said Pearson, P-Burlington.

Every year about 1,100 people receive misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. The Joint Fiscal Office estimates that streamlining the legal process as proposed could save the state $750,000, as officers and prosecutors spend less time on pot cases. Supporters of the measure say it could also save the futures of young offenders.

Under the proposed law, those under 21 caught with marijuana would face the same process as those caught underage drinking. The law would not alter prohibitions on drugged driving.

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