BUMMER! Marijuana Legalization, Carbon Tax may return to Legislature next year

By Guy Page

Page Communications

MAY 16, 2016 — Get ready — marijuana legalization and a “global warming” oil and gas tax are likely to return to the Vermont Legislature.

The Vermont House on May 3 rejected S.241, the legalization of marijuana. A carbon tax bill failed to get out of the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Opponents of both bills (a group that includes me) breathed substance-free, CO-2 filled sighs of relief. But in our Legislature, failed legislation never really goes away, if it’s supported by persistent, well-funded interest groups.

Marijuana Legalization 2.0:

A powerful legislative study committee plans to spend the summer resolving “problems” with the failed marijuana bill. From the May 10 Vermont Digger:

Hours before the curtains closed on the 2016 legislative session, key House and Senate lawmakers agreed to continue conversing about pot.

Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, and Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, jointly wrote a letter stating that the question of marijuana legalization will be a central focus of a panel that convenes periodically when the Legislature isn’t in session.

The Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee plans to hold six hearings on regulation and legalization of marijuana through the summer and fall.

The letter, requesting authorization for the hearings from Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and House Speaker Shap Smith, says the hearings will be focused on developing a “comprehensive approach to marijuana.”

“These issues are clearly important to Vermonters, and we would like to continue the conversation in hopes of developing a modern approach to marijuana policy that reflects the values, culture and scale of Vermont,” the lawmakers wrote.

Here comes Marijuana Legalization 2.0! The Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee is comprised of Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary committees respectively. Other members include Rep. Alice M. Emmons (D-Springfield), Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Rep. Sandy Haas (P-Rochester), Rep. Mary S. Hooper (D-Montpelier), Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons (D-Chittenden), and Rep. Butch Shaw (R-Pittsford, Brandon).

Today, the committee’s staffer told me the date, time and location of the first meeting will be announced on the committee’s website ASAP. I will attend this summer study committee and report to you. If you don’t want to receive my reports, please let me know. Otherwise I’ll plan to keep you in the loop.

Carbon Tax:

This year, a determined coalition of climate change lobbyists, legislators and Gov. Peter Shumlin pushed hard to pass a law forcing Treasurer Beth Pearce to divest fossil-fuel related stocks from Vermont’s estimated $4 billion pension funds. She firmly declined, citing her fiduciary responsibility to pensioners. The bill failed.

This January, it seems that Vermonters’ cost-of-living will face another attack: punitive taxation. Lurking in the background during the 2015–2016 session was H.412, a bill to reduce fossil fuel consumption by taxation. A House committee held a few informational hearings, but it never went further, in part because other taxes were an even greater priority.

But Energy Independent Vermont, a coalition of 20 environmental and other groups, hasn’t stopped pushing. During the 2016 session it held press conferences, organized volunteer training, promoted studies, worked the media, and recruited. Tellingly, another “statewide activist training” is scheduled for late June. A carbon tax has been a key focus of the summertime, door-to-door canvassers for Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Finally, the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility — one of the 20 coalition members — has called for a “vigorous debate” on the carbon tax in the 2017–2018 session.

Carbon tax supporters claim a steep tax on gasoline and heating oil will actually stimulate the economy and help poor people. As someone who has seen how revenue-hungry Montpelier passes legislation, collects taxes, and approves spending, I see the opposite happening. I also see Vermont once again being made the guinea pig for a social experiment; no other state legislature has approved a carbon tax.

Once again, Vermonters are being asked to be the first mouse to snatch the cheese from the mousetrap. It’s time to let someone else go first instead, while we watch and see how it all works out.

If you wish to learn more about marijuana, carbon tax legislation, and other issues of interest, please email me at newsclips@msn.com or at pagecommunications4vt@gmail.com.

Guy Page is a veteran Vermont journalist, lobbyist and grassroots activist. More information is available at his Facebook page, Page Communications.