Hitting the ground running
The first week of the 2018 legislative session opened with less ceremony than last year, which was the beginning of the biennium. New members appointed since last May due to resignations were seated, and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson made her opening remarks. She acknowledged that each House member was there to promote the best interests of Vermont and Vermonters as they perceived that charge, and she asked us to work together collaboratively to achieve the best results. Recognizing that climate change was one of the most critical challenges of society, she challenged each House committee to take at least one initiative within its purview that would reduce carbon emissions.
The second day was essentially a continuation of the veto session that convened last June to pass the FY18 budget after Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it and the marijuana legalization bill. While the budget was passed in June, the marijuana bill did not have enough support to suspend the rule requiring 24-hour notice published in the record before a bill could be voted on. Such a suspension would require three-fourths of the body present to pass. So, notice to take up H.511 was published in the House Calendar on Jan. 3 and we proceeded to debate it the following day. Two hours of debate in the morning and three after the governor’s State of the State address in the afternoon primarily consisted of amendments offered, only one of which was adopted. The bill to legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana and two mature and four immature plants per household in a secure area with penalties for distribution to persons under 21 years of age passed on a vote of 81 to 63.
This is an issue that continues to divide public opinion with strong feelings on both sides. Access to marijuana by young people and driving under the influence are valid concerns. My vote in favor of the bill reflected my opinion that the current status of prohibition is not working. More than 80,000 Vermonters admit to using even while it is illegal, and marijuana is more accessible to teens than alcohol. Like alcohol, it can be abused, but most users do not abuse it. I listened closely to the debate and supported several amendments that I felt would improve it. I don’t believe the bill is perfect, but I came to the conclusion that legalization is inevitable. It will be available legally in Massachusetts by the end of the year, and Quebec is on the path of legalization as well. The bill increases penalties for distribution to minors and increases the number of state police officers trained to be Drug Recognition Experts. In my opinion, marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol. While this bill does not provide for that, I believe that Vermont will adopt a tax-and-regulate system in the next year or two.
I welcome your concerns and opinions and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (email@example.com). You can find and my past articles at my website: MikeYantachka.com.
Rep. Mike Yantachka of Charlotte is a Democratic member of the Vermont House of Representatives.