Well before house debate on marijuana decriminalization began Friday, proponents knew they had the votes, so legislators used the opportunity to debate legalization.
Friday afternoon, members of the House of Representatives voted 98 - 44 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Proponents said it's time for an official statewide policy, but opponents said drug reform is best left for the federal government.
"We have effectively decriminalized marijuana already, because for the most part, minor offenses are not prosecuted," said Rep. Thomas Koch (R/D-Barre Town.)
"Until we get a change on the legal status of marijuana at the federal level, I think it's foolish," said Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington.)
The bill would create a civil, $100 fine for those caught with less than one ounce of pot. Those under 21, or repeat offenders, would face mandatory drug treatment.
But with support for the measure already secure not only in the house, but from the Senate and Governor, many advocates used their floor time to argue for and against full legalization. "If the bill were permitting legal use in someone's own private home, I would be okay with that," said Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield.)
"Marijuana is part of the problem, marijuana has always been part of the problem, marijuana will continue to be part of the problem," said Rep. Peter Fagan (R-Rutland City.)
"Going forward, I believe we need a comprehensive regulation, taxation, legalization, education policy," said Rep. Tom Burditt (R-Rutland.)
It's unclear if the Senate will alter the bill when it arrives next week. Provisions in the House version tolerating up to two ounces of marijuana and a small number of plants did not survive committee. But the bill's primary sponsor, Progressive Chris Pearson of Burlington said he's pleased the measure will move forward.
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