Will Vermont soon be legalizing marijuana? A new law decriminalized small amounts of pot this summer. Now, Gov. Peter Shumlin says the state should look at legalization.
Governor Shumlin says the change in his stance came after a federal decision not to go after states legalizing marijuana. Supporters say this could be a political win for Shumlin-- pleasing constituents who want to smoke pot and providing a possible revenue stream for the state. And there's also political cover since two states out West went first.
"I'm open to a further discussion in Vermont about what makes the most sense for this state," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.
After pushing for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana last year, Shumlin says he's open to talking about legalizing marijuana in Vermont. The change comes after the Department of Justice said last week it won't stand in the way of states where pot is now legal. That means Colorado and Washington can move ahead with plans to regulate and tax marijuana without fear of a federal crackdown.
"I think in Vermont we are smart to be evolving with the rest of the country on this, and I applaud the DOJ for being more clear about how they're going to enforce legalization issues of small amounts of marijuana," Shumlin said.
Currently in Vermont, if you're caught with up to 1 ounce of pot, you get a citation, like a traffic ticket. Passing the law was a top legislative priority for Shumlin. The governor said during the campaign he has tried marijuana and that decriminalizing small amounts will free up police to focus on drugs like heroin and prescription pills. Shumlin says he's talked with his Public Safety commissioner and has no timeline in mind, but that regulating pot could bring in cash.
"This is an area where I'm happy to let other governors lead, but I'm open to the conversation. I think we should learn from Washington state and Colorado, but I don't think we should let them get too far ahead of us," Shumlin said.
So don't count on a bill next session. House Speaker Shap Smith says it is not a priority. He says there are bigger issues for the Legislature to focus on, like the budget. And Chittenden County Senator David Zuckerman, who proposed marijuana legalization last session, says he would like to see the Legislature act, but doesn't think it has the appetite to do so given its passage of decriminalization this year.
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