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Vermont lawmakers try again for marijuana legalization

Posted June 20

Vermont lawmakers are giving legal weed another shot.

Last month, the Republican governor vetoed a legalization bill for recreational marijuana after it passed the state Assembly and Senate. But rather than killing it outright, he sent it back to legislators and asked for stronger protections against stoned driving and kids' access to pot.

On Wednesday, lawmakers will convene for a special session, and supporters of legalization will try again with a bill that they hope addresses Governor Phil Scott's concerns.

The bill now has stiffer penalties for stoned driving, providing pot to children, smoking in cars with kids and selling marijuana in school zones, Assemblyman Thomas Burditt, a Republican co-sponsor, told CNNMoney.

The bill does not contain the "impairment testing mechanism" requested by the governor, who wants a way to detect stoned driving. There are no marijuana Breathalyzers on the market, although two startups are working on it.

The governor's office declined comment on the revised bill. When he vetoed the bill in May, the governor said he was not "philosophically opposed" to legal pot, and said he recognized there is a "clear societal shift in that direction."

If the lawmakers succeed in legalizing recreational marijuana, Vermont will become the ninth state to do so, and the first to do it through the legislature. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine all legalized recreational pot with ballot measures.

Related: Vermont expands medical marijuana program

Neither Burditt nor Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, is confident the bill will pass both chambers of the legislature and be signed by the governor during the two-day special session. The legislators also have a budget to approve, and other issues to consider.

And even if the bill becomes law, legalization won't happen until July 2018. The legislature convenes again in January, so it could still meet that target.

Vermont is unusual in that its legalization bill does not allow for a legal retail market -- only for personal use, possession of up to an ounce, and growing up to six plants at home.

Related: Startups are testing Breathalzyers for pot

This would make Vermont similar to the District of Columbia, where recreational marijuana is legal but there's no legal retail market. People in the nation's capital have reportedly gotten around the restriction by donating to organizations that then reward them with gifts of marijuana.

Vermont does have four dispensaries, but they're for medical marijuana. The state recently expanded its medical marijuana program to cover Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease and post-traumatic stress order.

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