Vermont’s Democratic-led legislature passed a bill to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana earlier this year. Now, party activists are calling on lawmakers to expand on that by allowing a system of legal cannabis production and sales.
“We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity,” reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party’s platform convention on Sunday.
The limited legalization bill was signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott (R) in January.
While Scott, who is up for reelection this year, has said the state won’t be ready to go further until better solutions to address impaired driving are formulated, Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist is all-in on expanded legalization, pledging to “work with the legislature to ensure that a tax and regulate system was passed into law in my first term.”
Democratic leaders in both chambers of the legislature brought the noncommercial legalization proposal to votes last session, but House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) has been reluctant about adding tax and regulate. Meanwhile, the Senate has already passed legislation to legalize cannabis sales.
Advocates hope that the Democratic Party’s new official position in support of expanding to a regulated commercial system of legalization like ones that exist in eight other states will encourage Johnson and other top lawmakers to prioritize moving a bill early in 2019.
“The Vermont Democratic Party has now officially and fully embraced the position that regulating the production and sale of cannabis is the smart way to achieve improvements in public health and safety – a position strongly supported by the general public,” Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment.
“From the party officials at the dais, to the grassroots members on the platform convention floor, support for regulation was vocal, even amongst delegates who opposed homegrow legalization,” added Silberman, who authored the language of the new platform plank as a delegate at the convention over the weekend. “This sends Vermonters an unambiguous message ahead of November’s election: a vote for Democratic legislators is a vote for tax-and-regulate.”
Meanwhile, the party is also pushing for broader drug policy reforms that go beyond cannabis.
“We recognize that the ‘War on Drugs’ has been disproportionately focused on people of color and those with low incomes, and urge the adoption of non-discriminatory, public health-based approaches,” reads an additional new platform plank.
“We believe that Vermont’s policies towards drug use and abuse should be motivated by a desire to reduce harm, rather than to punish undesirable private behavior,” says another.
A third new plank touches on the far-reaching effects of drug and other convictions: “We support ensuring that the collateral consequences of criminal convictions do not last a lifetime, by enabling more people to clear their records after having repaid their debt to society. To do this, we must expand access and reduce financial and bureaucratic barriers to expungement.”
On a voice vote, delegates defeated a proposed plank calling for the decriminalization of all drugs. The party’s 2016 platform called for “exploration of the decriminalization of drug use and instead treating it as a health and mental health issue” but was silent on cannabis specifically.
“The feeling the room was that while almost all support alternatives to incarceration, the party was not quite yet ready to fully embrace decriminalization,” Silberman said.