Seeking consistency on marijuana

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The state Legislature's move to decriminalize marijuana possession under one ounce on Tuesday adds a new chapter to what has been a long, strange trip for efforts to legalize the drug and its various modes of consumption in Vermont.

Whether it's going to lead anywhere is anyone's guess.

The House bill doesn't go as far as the state Senate's legalization bill, which provided for regulation and taxation. There's only a few days left in the legislative session at this writing, and Gov. Phil Scott doesn't seem to be in much of a rush to sign any legalization bill that reaches his desk.

So we're probably looking at another year of discussion and study in Montpelier — and then who knows what happens in an election year.

To echo an editorial that ran in our sister newspaper in Bennington: There's never going to be a perfect marijuana legalization bill.

Now that the House has approved small amounts of marijuana possession without civil penalty, we have to ask: What are we still fussing about?

If possession of an ounce or less without penalty is acceptable to the House, then maybe it's time to swing open the doors and legalize marijuana as the state Senate has suggested. This would regulate its sale and use in ways that make sense, reflect the state's interest in limiting access to adults, and let the state reap the monetary rewards that come from taxing its use aggressively. (As much as cigarettes or even more, we would suggest.)

We reached this conclusion not because we think that marijuana is harmless, or because we like the idea of people walking around stoned, but because legalization would create some consistency with state policy on substances we know are harmful when used carelessly, but create tax revenue for the state: Alcohol and tobacco.

Many of the concerns that come with legal marijuana — impaired driving and teenage access being the two most problematic — will be with us whether it remains a black-market trade or it's taxed and sold legally. They won't magically go away if marijuana is legalized.

No one voices the same worries about selling vodka, despite all the damage we know it can do to people and their families and loved ones. But we tried alcohol prohibition before, and it was a failure.

Perhaps another year or more of study will give the state a marijuana legalization law that improves on the experience as seen in Colorado, Washington state and now Massachusetts. But in the meantime, we're not sure we're going to learn anything from those states that we don't already know.


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