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House panels modify marijuana legalisation

MIDDLEBURY — Marijuana legalization is a hot topic beyond just the Vermont Statehouse these days. Addison County residents and local lawmakers traded thoughts on the subject during the Legislative Breakfast at the American Legion Hall in Middlebury on Monday, April 11.
The House Judiciary Committee on April 8 voted 6-5 to gut a Senate-passed measure (S.241) that would have allowed adults to legally possess up to an ounce of recreational marijuana. The panel instead approved a bill that would create a commission to study the eventual legalization of marijuana. It would also lower Vermont’s legal blood-alcohol content limit from the current 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent in cases where a driver has also consumed marijuana.
On Friday, a majority of House Ways and Means Committee members voted for legislation to allow Vermonters to obtain a license to grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Dave Silberman, a Middlebury attorney and supporter of legalization, noted the Judiciary Committee had rejected a measure that would have reduced criminal penalties for possession. The bill, according to Silberman, would have reduced the current penalty for growing 25 or more pot plants, which currently stands at 15 years. That’s the same penalty that the state currently applies to manslaughter, according to Silberman.
He asked  Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury — a member of the Judiciary Committee — why she voted against the bill that proposed to reduce pot-related penalties.
“I’m struggling to understand why you might think growing 25 marijuana plants is as dangerous to our society as manslaughter,” he said to Nuovo.
Nuovo said she and her colleagues had not had enough time to review what she called “a brand new bill” that she had only seen that morning. Nuovo has long been on the record as opposing marijuana legalization.
She referred to testimony from law enforcement and health care professionals that she said raises concerns about the impact pot use can have on traffic safety and brain development in young adults.
“I am not ready to vote for it,” she said of marijuana legislation.
The House Judiciary bill allows House and Senate conferees to negotiate new language that could still result in the legalization of recreational pot. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he would sign such a bill.
Among other issues discussed at the breakfast was Act 46, the new school governance unification law.
It is being implemented in three area supervisory unions: Addison Central, Addison Northwest and Rutland Northeast. Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union voters this past Tuesday defeated a unification question and Addison Northeast is currently preparing for such a vote.
While the measure passed comfortably in the ACSU this past March, some residents are concerned about the upcoming transition to a single board overseeing a single education budget. Salisbury resident Heidi Willis said at last Monday’s breakfast that she’s worried that unification will become another setback for town meeting participation in her community.
Salisbury has voted on its elementary school budget from the floor at its annual meeting. Now a global Addison Central School District budget will be voted by Australian ballot.
“I feel we will lose town meeting,” Willis said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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