New Vt. Legislature prepares to take on legal marijuana market

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Lawmakers have already promised there will be a spirited effort to create a legal market for marijuana this year. But some lawmakers and plenty of advocates remain firmly opposed. Our Neal Goswami has more from Montpelier on the unfolding debate.

The Senate is expected to move quickly on passing a regulated retail market. But a big question mark remains in the House, where such legislation has been rejected time and again.

The one thing those for and against a legal retail market for marijuana agree on is that it's not inevitable.

"I don't think so at all. I think that once legislators think about the real-life consequences of a retail market, they may pull back. And certainly the governor has strong concerns, as well," Guy Page said.

Page has been opposing legal marijuana for years as a lobbyist and plans to work on lawmakers again this year as a volunteer when they return next week.

"Really, we just appeal to legislators of all different parties about the real-world consequence of what this will mean," Page said.

Dave Silberman is a pro bono drug policy reform advocate. He hopes to convince lawmakers to finally approve a legal market but he knows there's no guarantee.

"Everything takes a lot of hard work and a lot of convincing and nothing is a sure thing in politics," Silberman said.

He says prospects for approval in the House look better than ever given that Democrats and Progressives picked up seats there in November.

"According to my initial counts, upward of 90 state reps have publicly stated during the campaign they support the tax and regulate model. Now, of course, that doesn't mean they'll vote against any one particular bill," Silberman said.

The Governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission has submitted a final report. It lays out a recommended pathway to a retail market. It calls for a roadside test for impairment. So does Governor Phil Scott. But that test doesn't exist yet.

Advocates say test or no test, it's time to move forward.

"Nowhere that marijuana has been legalized has teen use actually gone up. In Washington, this past year, it actually went down. In Colorado, it went down in some age groups and for drugged driving the same," Silberman said.

Page says he and others plan to convince lawmakers to pass on approving a legal market. He says they'll make the best case they can.

"The welfare of our children-- that we don't need more addiction, we don't need more deaths on the highway. We don't need more targeting, really, drug targeting, of our poor, ethnic and young Vermonters," Page said.

Silberman says a regulated market would make marijuana safer by ensuring its quality and potency.