Local lawmakers explain marijuana legalization

BRIDPORT — Gov. Phil Scott last week signed a bill that will allow adults in Vermont to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to two mature plants on their property.
A majority of Addison County’s legislative delegation supported the marijuana bill, and some of those legislators explained their votes at a Legislative Breakfast at the Bridport Grange Hall on Monday.
“This bill has been in existence for at least the past 16 years I’ve been in the Senate,” said Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison. “It’s not been sudden; it’s not been a rush.”
Ayer supported the bill but added she would have preferred legislation that would have taxed and regulated marijuana purchases.
“I wanted to have resources to make sure we spent a lot of time educating young people,” Ayer said, noting concerns about the potential impact substantial marijuana use could have on young, developing brains.
Addison County’s other state senator, New Haven Democrat Chris Bray, pointed to recent estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 Vermonters currently use marijuana. He noted those who acquire pot through dealers run the risk of having it tainted with pesticides and other chemicals they wouldn’t use to grow it themselves.
“When you have somewhere near one-sixth of the population engaging in what’s currently defined as ‘illegal activity,’ it’s not a healthy paradigm to have that many people as lawbreakers,” Bray said. “We need something to acknowledge that (marijuana use) is a choice many people make, and let’s try to improve on that reality.”
Bray said he believes a tax-and-regulate bill will be the next step in the evolution of pot legalization in Vermont.
“It’s not unusual for legislatures to do things in multiple stages,” Bray said.
Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, was among lawmakers who voted against the bill. She has been concerned about the medical impacts of the drug on young users. That said, she understands why Vermont is following suit with neighboring states and Canada that are moving toward legalization.
“Vermont needs to deal with something that’s a reality for a lot of people,” she said of marijuana use.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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