Statehouse Headliners: New bills weaken penalties for drug use, limit forfeiture of assets

By Guy Page

Several bills introduced by members of the House Judiciary Committee seek to push back current legal boundaries on marijuana and heavier drugs.

H.251 would expunge misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions imposed prior legalization last year and decriminalize possession of less than two ounces of marijuana or 10 grams of hashish.

The bill is sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Maxine Grad, and two other Judiciary members, Burlington lawmakers Selene Colburn and Barbara Rachelson. The other sponsor is Sam Young of Glover, lead sponsor for H.196, a House bill that would legalize the retail sale of marijuana.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

It’s legal now to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. H.251 would decriminalize twice that amount.  Two ounces is enough marijuana for about 120 joints, depending on the strength of the THC. Decriminalization carries no criminal record or penalty. Instead, a violation will incur a civil penalty – similar to a parking ticket – of not more than $100 for first offense; $200 for second offense; and more than $500 for a third or subsequent offense. No person shall possess more than two ounces of marijuana or more than ten grams of hashish or more than 19 four mature marijuana plants or eight immature marijuana plants.

Last year’s legalization of possession of an ounce of marijuana seems to have empowered a strong, organized illegal retail market, at least in large cities like Burlington. For example, last month police arrested the owner of Good Times Gallery, across Church Street from City Hall, on a federal warrant for sale of marijuana.

While some Vermonters say police should respond with tough enforcement and the Legislature should rethink legal possession, Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan and others elected officials instead now say the best response is taxed, regulated and fully legalized cultivation and retail sale. It should be noted that in Colorado and other states where retail sales are legal, the black market continues to thrive anyway. The notion that Vermont can legalize our way out of black market marijuana sales is not supported by the experience of other states.

H.250, a ‘tax and regulate’ marijuana bill in House Judiciary, resembles S.54, which is on the cusp of approval by the Senate. It would impose a 10 percent tax, about half of what Sam Young’s H196 would impose. Neither bill comes close to the 26 percent tax the Scott administration says is needed to fund the multi-million dollar regulatory cost of tax and regulation and also public safety, education and prevention programs. No-one is expecting any new revenue for other programs. It will be hard enough to pay for the bare-bones costs incurred by ‘tax and regulate’ legalization.

Moving on to Judiciary-member backed bills about harder drugs:

H.102 would legalize so-called ‘safe drug consumption’ programs like safe-shoot-up spaces and needle exchanges. It would also limit criminal liability or civil forfeiture for users, staff or organizers of these programs. Drug users would have a ‘safe space’ to come and shoot up, get new needles, get advice on treatment, receive assistance in case of overdose, etc.

H.151 would limit seizure of assets of accused criminals, including drug dealers, by eliminating judicial forfeiture in the case of plea bargains. Judges could only seize property if the alleged perpetrator – not always but often a drug dealer – is convicted of the underlying offense. But if the accused criminal cops to a lesser plea, there would be no forfeiture. In effect this protects the assets of drug dealers, because they have more legal options that won’t result in forfeiture of their house, boat, car, etc..

Furthermore, H.151 redirects the use of the assets away from law enforcement and to the Legislature’s General Fund. Current law requires that 45 percent of the money left over after paying the costs of selling the property, liens, animal care etc. must go to law enforcement. H151 redistributes that money to the State of Vermont General Fund – which is under control of the Legislature.

Supporters of relaxing Vermont’s drug laws often portray their efforts as good for the addicted consumer without making life any easier for the drug dealers. H151, however, would seem to be an exception. It also would deprive law enforcement of a much-needed source of revenue, thus requiring taxpayers to bear a greater share of the burden for fighting illegal drugs.

H.103 would restructure drug possession laws to make possession of marijuana, cocaine, LSD, Heroin, and other illegal drugs a misdemeanor and possession with intent to sell as a felony.

At present, possession of these drugs is a felony. As reported in State House Headliners Feb. 2, supporters of H103 also seem to support eventual decriminalization of all hard drugs, as shown by their support for Portugal’s decriminalization about 20 years ago.

H.162 would remove possession of the narcotic buprenorphine from the misdemeanor category of narcotic drugs. This drug is used to reduce symptoms of opiate addiction withdrawal. The bill as written does not assign buprenorphine to any other legal category.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR

5 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: New bills weaken penalties for drug use, limit forfeiture of assets

  1. It sounds like they want to enable drug use. I wonder just how stupid the democrats can get. The voters here in Vermont and the whole country had better wake up.

  2. Last week they were trying to make honest law abiding citizens (gun owners) criminals this week their making criminals NOT…

    Can we get a sanity, common sense, iq tests on these legislative critters STAT. It’s almost like they hate the law abiding tax payer from who’s hand they eat from…

  3. Portugal enacted a quasi decriminalization of all drugs.
    The program does involve consequences for certain more risky behaviors…

    “Individuals found in possession of small quantities of drugs are issued summons. The drugs are confiscated, and the suspect is interviewed by a “Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction” (Comissões para a Dissuasão da Toxicodependência – CDT). These commissions are made up of three people: A social worker, a psychiatrist, and an attorney.[13][15] The dissuasion commission have powers comparable to an arbitration committee, but restricted to cases involving drug use or possession of small amounts of drugs. There is one CDT in each of Portugal’s 18 districts.

    The committees have a broad range of sanctions available to them when ruling on the drug use offence. These include:

    Fines, ranging from €25 to €150. These figures are based on the Portuguese minimum wage of about €485 (Banco de Portugal, 2001) and translate into hours of work lost.
    Suspension of the right to practice if the user has a licensed profession (e.g. medical doctor, taxi driver) and may endanger another person or someone’s possessions.
    Ban on visiting certain places (e.g. specific clubbing venues).
    Ban on associating with specific other persons.
    Foreign travel ban.
    Requirement to report periodically to the committee.
    Withdrawal of the right to carry a gun.
    Confiscation of personal possessions.
    Cessation of subsidies or allowances that a person receives from a public agency.
    If the person is addicted to drugs, they may be admitted to a drug rehabilitation facility or be given community service, if the dissuasion committee finds that this better serves the purpose of keeping the offender out of trouble. The committee cannot mandate compulsory treatment, although its orientation is to induce addicts to enter and remain in treatment. The committee has the explicit power to suspend sanctions conditional upon voluntary entry into treatment. If the offender is not addicted to drugs, or unwilling to submit to treatment or community service, he or she may be given a fine.[1][16][17][18]”

  4. Well, Montpelier has been wondering how to lure people to the state, I guess if these bills
    pass we’ll have plenty of new residents ……..

    Come to Vermont, you can do anything from Pot to Heroin, not a big deal. Law enforcement
    will just slap your wrist, need supplies ( needles ) or a place to shoot up …….Not a Problem
    we help you out …………..We’re a Liberal State …….

    The only thing missing is that the State doesn’t supply the Narcotics, Oh wait that’s a federal
    offense ………….Liberals make their own rules, they feel good.

    And these are the same legislators that feel that Law Abiding Citizens shouldn’t possess a
    firearm …………………Wow.

    Vermont, you better wake up

  5. You’ve got to be kidding me. Reading these bills will surely make more druggies and drug dealers.
    Why don’t you just take away all the laws and let the people run wild. Are these some of the common sense laws that these liberals are always professing and you want to further restrict gun rights. We’ll definitely need all we can muster to protect ourselves if these laws pass.

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