Legislators explain their marijuana bill votes

Editor’s note: The Vermont House of Representatives last week voted to approve a bill that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Shelburne Democrats Kate Webb and Jessica Brumsted cast votes on either side of the issue: Webb voting for the measure and Brumsted voting against. The Shelburne News asked them to share the rationale behind their positions.

Rep. Jessica Brumsted
The House passed H.511 by a vote of 81 to 63 last Thursday. It legalizes the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and allows people 21 or older to grow two mature and four immature marijuana plants. I have heard from many folks in Shelburne and St. George expressing concerns both for and against legalization, I listened to testimony last year and again this past week, and although I support the freedom of choice elements of legalizing marijuana, I still have significant public health and safety concerns which led me to vote “no” on the bill at this time.

Enforcement will be difficult because there is no true test that can be conducted on our roads to determine if someone is operating a vehicle while impaired by marijuana. For this reason and others, law enforcement officials have expressed their opposition to this bill. Vermont physicians through the Vermont Medical Society voted to oppose this bill, and the potential health care costs (particularly mental health) are not yet known.

A particular concern is the adverse effect of marijuana on the developing brains of young people, which has been documented in research at the University of Vermont. I hoped we could wait to consider the recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Marijuana due to be released on January 15. Actually, I think we need even more time to consider the outcomes that are developing in states that have already legalized marijuana including Colorado and California.

It is essential that if this bill becomes law, we consider the recommendations of the Commission when we develop the rules to implement it. Rest assured my focus will remain on the safety of Vermonters, especially our children.

Rep. Kate Webb
The House voted to legalize adult possession of marijuana on a vote of 81-63. This tri-partisan bill is a thoughtful approach that is expected to become law, given Governor Scott’s expressed support. While current law decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, this bill would legalize this same amount. It also allows two plants to be grown at home for personal use.

I heard from many members of our community both in support and against, with a flurry of emails coming in this past week. I listened carefully to feedback and understand that while the majority of Vermonters support this change, there is evidence indicating we must be very cautious, particularly when it comes to use by young people and highway safety. The House Judiciary Committee took testimony from many Vermonters and national experts, and that testimony helped create the balance struck in the bill.

I voted in support of this bill. My general perspective is that the government should not control the substances adults consume privately, whether it is alcohol or marijuana. We should continue, however, to work to limit and sanction any actions by adults that harm others. While there is no reliable blood test to indicate impairment, there are drug recognition experts who are trained to identify drug-induced impairment. With the ability to legally possess marijuana in Quebec, Massachusetts, and Maine, Vermont is in a better position to respond to those traveling through our state.

While arguably less harmful than alcohol, there are harms that should be regulated. To that end, the bill includes provisions that:

  • Make distribution to minors a crime
  • Limit possession to one ounce per person
  • Permit landlords to limit growing in their apartments
  • Limit growing two mature plants per household, regardless of number of people
  • Prevent smoking in a car with minors

These are just a few of the many provisions included in this bill aimed at protecting children and the public, while respecting individuals’ rights to possess small amounts of marijuana. I also look forward to the report from the Governor’s Marijuana Commission. It will help guide the potential to enact a fuller taxation and regulation law in the future.

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