Vermont lawmakers are considering whether to become the first state Legislature to legalize marijuana. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis, but in each of those cases, it was voters at the ballot box, not lawmakers, who changed the law. Vermont’s Constitution prohibits ballot referendums and initiatives, meaning any decision on marijuana would have to come directly from lawmakers. Driving much of the debate in Vermont is an independent report commissioned by Gov. Shumlin that says state marijuana taxes could generate $20 million to $75 million a year. To reach the higher revenue number, the report contemplates “marijuana tourism” — smokers coming from other states. The president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, George Merkel, opposes legalization, saying he doesn’t understand why the state is even considering it, other than “the lure of money.”
Strong majorities of Virginia voters support medical marijuana legalization and laws decriminalizing recreational use, a new poll says. According to a Christopher Newport University survey released Tuesday, 71 percent of registered Virginia voters support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, compared to 26 percent who oppose it. Sixty-nine percent support legalizing medical marijuana in the state, while 29 percent oppose. The poll comes days after Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin introduced a bill to decriminalize the possession of less than a half an ounce of marijuana, for which a first-time offender now faces jail time, a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine. Ebbin’s bill would get rid of the criminal charge and make the penalty a $100 fine. The NAACP and the ACLU have already offered support for the legislation, citing statistics that criminal charges for marijuana possession have a disproportionately negative impact on minority communities.
The latest data released by the Philadelphia Police Department show that marijuana arrests have continued to fall dramatically since the city’s new decriminalization law was launched in October. Police made 63 arrests for marijuana possession between Oct. 20 (the day the new procedure went into place) and Dec. 31. There were 35 of the new citations issued in the same time period. The code violations are $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public. Compared to previous years, this now amounts to an 88 percent decline in arrests. There were 559 arrests in November and December of 2013 for possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis. A recent report from the RAND Corporation on legalizing marijuana in Vermont took a stab on the cost of individual arrests. RAND estimated each cost the state $1,266 – but just $20 to issue decrim tickets. Using that formula, Philly saved $627,000 in 60 days and is on track to save $3.75 million over the course of a year.
Ohio’s top cop was blunt about his opinion on legalizing marijuana in Ohio: “I think it’s a stupid idea.” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Tuesday that efforts to legalize marijuana in the state would lead to increased use of the drug, more accidents and less healthy residents. “When the law says, ‘Well, this is OK for adults,’ people are going to use it,” DeWine said. “The proposal, by the way, that I saw is just a ludicrous proposal. It’s basically legalizing a monopoly in the state of Ohio among a few individuals or a few companies who will be able to make all the money from the sale of marijuana,” he said. “Even if you think selling marijuana is a great idea, I don’t know why anyone would think just giving a few people who are going to put the money up to pass it on the ballot is a good idea to let them have that monopoly.”
Colorado’s marijuana experiment was designed to raise revenue for the state and its schools, but a state law may put some of the tax money directly into residents’ pockets, causing quite a headache for lawmakers. The state constitution limits how much tax money the state can take in before it has to give some back. That means Coloradans may each get their own cut of the $50 million in recreational pot taxes collected in the first year of legal weed. It’s a situation so bizarre that it’s gotten Republicans and Democrats, for once, to agree on a tax issue. Republicans and Democrats say there’s no good reason to put pot taxes back into people’s pockets, and state officials are scrambling to figure out how to avoid doling out the money. It may have to be settled by asking Colorado voters, for a third time, to cast a ballot on the issue and exempt pot taxes from the refund requirement.