Marijuana reform alive – kind of

Marijuana reform advocates have focused almost exclusively this year on the decriminalization bill stalled indefinitely in the Statehouse. But legislation that would increase four-fold the amount of cannabis Vermonters can sell without risking a felony conviction looks to have a far more promising path ahead.

Tucked into a Senate bill that would create a database for search warrants is a package of sentencing reforms that would, among other things, raise the threshold at which the sale of marijuana becomes a felony.

Currently, anyone caught selling a half-ounce or more is subject to a prison term of up to five years. The proposed legislation would increase that weight to two ounces, and relegate anything less than that to misdemeanor status.

“The guy selling that amount of marijuana isn’t guy I think we want to put in jail on felony charges,” Sears said Wednesday. “These aren’t the drug traffickers we want to be focusing on, so it makes sense I think to align our laws with our priorities from a criminal justice perspective.”

House Speaker Shap Smith has drawn sharp criticism this year from marijuana reform advocates for his opposition to the higher-profile decriminalization bill languishing in theMontpelier. But for Smith’s opposition, the bill, which has the support of both the Senate and Gov. Peter Shumlin, would face far rosier prospects for passage.

He seems to have fewer concerns, however, about tweaking the weight that triggers a felony for sale of marijuana.

“I still need to learn more about the proposal, but it sounds reasonable,” Smith said.

The legislation also changes some quirky laws, including one enacted in the mid-1800s that exposes people who serve alcohol to “habitual drinkers,” in their own homes no less, to felony charges.

Sears said the statute was originally intended to prevent enterprising Vermonters from transforming their living rooms into saloons.

The legislation additionally repeals a law that prohibits anyone from possessing more than a two-day supply of prescription drugs. Though it’s rarely, if ever, enforced, Sears said the law brands as criminals seniors who keep a seven-day supply in those little multi-chambered orange pillboxes.

Check out the full story on the bill in tomorrow’s Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

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