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Vermont Legalized Marijuana Too Fast, Say Police

James MacWilliams prunes a marijuana plant that he is growing indoors in Portland, Maine, on Dec. 13. 2017. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Only a few hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Jan. 4 he would enforce federal marijuana laws, NORML was celebrating the Vermont House’s approval of a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.

Five days later, on Jan. 9, NORML rejoiced again when the New Hampshire State House approved similar legislation.

The next day, NORML declared the death of “the failed Flat Earth policies of marijuana prohibition” when the Vermont Senate concurred with the House and sent the bill legalizing pot on to Gov. Phil Scott (R).

“The majority of Vermonters, like the majority of the American public, desire to live in a community where responsible adults who choose to consume cannabis are no longer criminalized or stigmatized. Governor Scott would be wise to provide Vermonters with this path forward, rather than cling to the failed policies of the past,” said NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

Vermont Democrat state Rep. Cynthia Brownington warned her colleagues they had made a mistake.

“This legalization bill will result in more use of cannabis, and it may result in more impaired drivers under the influence of cannabis,” Brownington said.

However, Vermont House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D) described the legislation as a “thoughtful, incremental approach to marijuana legislation.”

“We’re proud to be the first state in the nation to pass marijuana legalization without the pressure of a public referendum,” Krowinski said in a statement.

As expected, the Vermont Senate quickly approved legislation, which is similar to a bill that passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Scott.

It’s important to remember this is Vermont, not California. Lawmakers in Montpelier approved legislation that is very low-key compared to what other states have done.

The Vermont proposal, which Scott is expected to sign, would allow adults to possess less than an ounce of marijuana and grow two mature or four immature pot plants at home. The legislation was rewritten to address Scott’s concerns about kids smoking pot and people high on pot while driving.

The New Hampshire legislation would allow the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of pot for recreational use and the cultivation of three mature plants by adults over the age of 21.

The Vermont Police Association, the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police and the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association called on state lawmakers Jan. 8 to stop action on legislation to legalize the personal use and cultivation of marijuana.

The three police groups wanted the Vermont Legislature to hold off on final action on the state House-approved bill until the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission released its study on the public health and safety implications of the legislation.

“Apparently, all the research and subject matter experts’ opinions are not important enough to be considered in this discussion,” the three police groups said in a joint statement. “We find this behavior irresponsible, extremely frustrating and concerning. We are disappointed in the conduct of our elected officials as they rush to legalize marijuana without allowing all the facts to be fully vetted.”

State Rep. Kurt Wright (R) also said the legislature acted too quickly.

“We should have waited for more and better information, both from a report due in 11 days as well as Colorado,” Wright told the Burlington Free Press. “This is a mistake that we will not be able to go back from once done.”

However, state Sen. Joe Benning (R), a member of the Marijuana Advisory Commission, told the Valley News he didn’t see any reason to wait for the panel’s report.

“The report is going to tell us things that we already know,” Benning said. “There is nothing about the report that cures the problems that are presented.”

“I think some of these legislators have already made up their minds and they don’t care what the facts and statistics might say, one way or the other,” Woodstock, Vt., Police Chief Robbie Blish said. “I suspect that they already know that (the report) is going to contain information that isn’t going to speak well of their vote and I think they just want to get it passed.”

Blish said no matter what the Vermont Legislature did, he is worried about Sessions’ decision to “return to the rule of law” and rescind three Obama-administration era memos that allowed states to decide if pot should be legal without worrying about federal marijuana laws.

“Who knows what the feds are going to do,” Blish added. “By decriminalizing marijuana in Vermont, we could actually make Vermonters federal criminals.”