Sen. Sears on legalization bill: No to homegrown

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MONTPELIER (AP) >> A state where a large cadre of home brewers coexists with a booming microbrew industry won't soon have an analogous situation with marijuana, if a key Vermont lawmaker gets his way.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears has said he won't try to block a legalization bill if it gets majority support in his committee. The panel is looking to wrap up work on the bill by the end of next week.

But the Democrat said Vermont is not ready for the idea of a marijuana plant tucked between the jade and spider plants on the windowsill.

"I don't think we should allow homegrown except in the medical marijuana field as we have it today," Sears said in an interview. He was referring to a 2004 state law allowing people with certain medical conditions to possess up to two mature plants and seven immature ones.

The Judiciary Committee is looking to combine elements of two legalization bills filed by Sens. David Zuckerman, a Chittenden County Progressive-Democrat and Jeanette White, a Democrat from Windham. Both envision a tightly regulated commercial industry. But Zuckerman's bill would allow the same limits for homegrown as the current medical marijuana law; White's would allow individuals to cultivate a plot of up to 100 square feet.

"Just like folks can brew their own beer," home growers should be allowed to grow limited amounts of pot as long as they're not selling it, Zuckerman said. "If you're going to sell it, there would be a regulated environment," he added. Both bills also contemplate taxing commercial marijuana sales.

They also call for creation of a new state board or commission to help guide future policy. Sears said he is not implacably opposed to homegrown, but would want such a panel to study the ramifications before allowing it.

Meanwhile, it's still entirely possible the legislation could go up in smoke even though legalization advocates are putting on a big push this year. The House is especially likely to be a buzzkill, with Speaker Shap Smith saying this week he doubted there would be time to get the legislation all the way through the process before the session likely adjourns for the year in May.

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., currently have some form of marijuana legalization. Only Washington state bans homegrown; in Washington, D.C., there's no commercial, above-ground market — the law there envisions only growing it for personal consumption, with a limit of six plants, three of which may be mature.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for the state of Colorado, said some there have come to regret that legalization there included an open door for home growers, as well as a licensed, commercial market. It's difficult for local police to know when a home grow operation has violated the law, said Freedman, who testified to Sears committee by phone Wednesday.

"We've created this gray area that's been problematic for us. If we had to do it over again, I think at least initially we'd make sure everything was running through the licensed system," he said.


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