Montpelier (May 3) – Vermont’s hopes to be the first state to legalize marijuana through legislation were dashed today by a House vote against legalization. The Vermont House killed Senate Language that would legalize having up to an ounce of marijuana, voting 121-28 against it. This was followed by another vote on whether or not the question should be put on a non-binding referendum for voters in the August primaries, which was also voted down 97-51. House majority leaders worked to promote “compromise language,” which would remove legalization, but add expanded decriminalization.
(Montpelier—April 22) “These houses provide the opportunity to build core relationships in college, they aren’t just a place to sleep” said University of Vermont junior Sarah Holmes about the pending revocation of tax exempt status for Greek housing in Burlington, VT. This morning Holmes, a sister of Delta Delta Delta at the University of Vermont, along with Jason Maulucci, Student Government Association and student body President, and Andrew Dazzo, a brother of Phi Gamma Delta and SGA Senator, spoke to the Senate Finance committee at the Vermont Legislature to propose a plan that would benefit both the State, the University and the Greek community. Current bill H.725 places a sunset clause on the Greek Houses in Burlington’s tax-exempt status, stating they will no longer be tax exempt come fiscal year 2017. This would mean the Greek organizations on campus would no longer be able to afford their homes with a property tax ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, and they would be forced to sell, likely to UVM or Champlain College. Holmes, Maulucci and Dazzo were accompanied by other members of Greek organizations, members of their Housing Corps and other lawmakers that have stake in the issue in order to try to save the homes of 200 students at UVM.
Burlington (Apr 11) – City Council learned of racial profiling in Burlington Police Department traffic stops in a presentation given by Dr. Stephanie Seguino, an economics professor at the University of Vermont. Seguino has been studying BPD traffic reports from 2012 to 2015 to see if there are differences between blacks and whites. “Black drivers are being over searched, or another way of looking at it is white drivers are being under searched” saidSeguino. Dr. Stephanie Segunio presenting her study on Burlington Police Department Racial Disparities in Traffic Policing to City Council
This study shows that although blacks make up only 4.5% of the local population they accounted for 7.9% of traffic stops in town. Also, car search rates of black drivers (3.3%) is three times the rate of searches for white drivers (1.1%) even though when searched white drivers were found with some kind of illegal substance or object 63.5% of the time as opposed to blacks who had a “hit” rate of 46.2%. “Hit rates are significantly lower in blacks which shows that they are being searched with no results” said Segunio. “It is incredibly helpful and sobering to see this information” Councilor Sharon Bushor of Ward 1 said. Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo later joined Seguino at the table for questions and said he wants to make information like this available “quarterly” for the public. Seguino also touched on the fact that there are “stark differences between the way Asian drivers and black driver are treated” but that wasn’t the focus of her report. Vehicle searches can be conducted without a warrant with reasonable cause or suspicion but intentionally or unintentionally, Burlington police have been searching blacks at a much higher rate than whites. “I don’t believe the smell of marijuana emanates any more from African-American cars more than it does white cars.
The Vermont House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reviewed the controversial S.230 bill on Wednesday and heard arguments from the lead administrators of renewable energy citing in the state. James Sullivan, the Executive Director of the Bennington County Regional Planning Commission addressed his concerns that growing fines on fossil fuel utilities would be transferred to the tax payers. Other municipalities such as Franklin County held reservations about whether public opinion would be positive enough to carry through with the citing of renewably viable land. The bill addresses town roles in implementing new energy sources such as wind is part of a statewide effort to be 90% carbon free by mid-century. Because there is no single energy source that can provide services for the whole of Vermont, the lofty goals of state are designed to incorporate a number off different types of fossil free energy sources including solar, wind, and geothermal.
Waterbury(April 13.) Sitting in a room just big enough for three people, two lobbyist on opposing sides of the marijuana debate faced off for the first time. Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MAP), a pro-legalization group, said he has only spoken to his opposing lobbyist, Kevin Ellis of Ellis Mills Public Affairs, for about 90 seconds. That was about to change on Wednesday, as both lobbyist were invited to debate marijuana on local radio station, WDEV’s Open Mike program with broadcaster and station owner, Ken Squire. Ellis, who represents Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT) said he believes the legalization bill, as passed by the senate, to be a bad idea and that common ground needs to be found. “On issues of decriminalization, we shouldn’t be putting people in jail,” he said, “the criminal justice system hasn’t been doing a good job.”
Ellis said the bill will only work if millions of dollars are used to create a whole new infrastructure and that money would come from out-of-state corporations.
Montpelier (April 8) – Not having enough support for full legalization, a divided House Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 in favor of their overhaul of a bill passed by the senate to legalize and regulate marijuana in Vermont. This overhaul removes legalization and focuses on creating a bill that would help Vermont prepare for a future with legalized marijuana. The bill, which would provide framework and money for Vermont to start education and prevention programs throughout the state, as well as important training for law enforcement. The bill would also set up a commission to study the legalization of recreational marijuana. Proposed earlier in the day was a version this bill that included an easing of decriminalization laws and penalties.