December 16, 2012

Speaker won't stop Vermont House pot debate

Shap Smith says he's open to a dialogue on marijuana decriminalization, despite his own misgivings about the idea.

The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith says he has his own misgivings, but he won't block the Vermont House from debating decriminalization of marijuana.

The Morristown Democrat has opposed marijuana decriminalization in the past, and said he still has concerns that making the change will send the wrong message to young Vermonters.

But the speaker said he won't try to keep legislation on the issue from being debated by his colleagues. Smith said he has asked for more information on the issue from Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin supports decriminalization, and has argued he does not want to see young Vermonters' future job prospects be harmed by getting arrested for small amounts of marijuana.

Recent campaigns that made Colorado and Washington the first states in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana are energizing efforts to do the same in New England, with lawmakers in Rhode Island and Maine vowing to push legislation next year that would impose alcohol-style regulations and taxes on the plant.

Voters in Washington state and Colorado approved ballot questions Nov. 6 that will authorize adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

Maine Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said last month that she will propose legislation to legalize marijuana, and estimated that sales taxes on its purchase in Maine would raise $8 million.

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