Decriminalization Bill Gets Public Airing 

Decriminalization Bill Gets Public Airing 
Posted by CN Staff on January 23, 2008 at 14:00:36 PT
By Lisa Rathke, Associated Press Writer
Source: Associated Press
Montpelier, Vt. -- State Sen. Jeannette White thinks the state of Vermont spends way too much time and money charging and prosecuting people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.Hoping to remove such cases from the criminal justice system, she has proposed a bill that would make possession of up to four ounces a civil violation punishable by a $1,000 fine instead of a crime.
"I do believe strongly that the way we deal with people with small amounts of marijuana doesn't make sense," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.White, D-Windham, says she's heard from prosecutors, drug and alcohol counselors and law enforcement officials and members of the medical community who agree.The committee was expected hear from the public Wednesday night about the proposal. The public hearing also will cover a bill that would stiffen the penalties for selling heroin and cocaine.But committee members were alarmed Wednesday to learn that the bill also would decriminalize the sale of four ounces or less of the drug."We're all trying to keep an open mind here about this, but I think it raises a lot of issues that I don't know how we're going to deal with," said state Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, who chairs the committee. "One of the interesting things is that it also decriminalizes the sale of less than four ounces and I think that that, for the committee itself, is real problematic."State Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, called the bill a waste of time."We have a huge drug problem in the state of Vermont," he said. "We seem to turn our backs away from the real issues and the real issue is that marijuana is a beginning drug on the pathway to other drugs."Vermont's marijuana laws have come under review recently in the wake of an October case in which Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand was criticized for granting court diversion to a lawyer caught with 24 pot plants, a felony.In response, Gov. Jim Douglas ordered law enforcement agencies to bring "significant" marijuana cases with first-time offenders in Windsor County to the state or federal government for prosecution. He later rescinded the order.Under current law, possession of less than two ounces on a first offense is a misdemeanor carrying a fine of $500 and 6 months in prison; possession of more than two ounces is a felony, with varying fines and prison terms, depending on the amount.Eleven states have marijuana decriminalization laws, which differ from state to state, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.In New Hampshire, lawmakers are considering a plan that would make the possession of up to 1.25 ounces of marijuana a violation that carries a $200 fine. Currently, possession is a criminal misdemeanor that can result in up to a year in jail and fines up to $2,500.Complete Title: Decriminalization Bill Gets Public Airing in MontpelierSource: Associated Press (Wire)Author: Lisa Rathke, Associated Press WriterPublished: January 23, 2008Copyright: 2008 Associated Press Related Articles & Web Site:Marijuana Policy Project A More Sensible Drug Policy Panel To Consider Drug Issues Senate To Consider Bills Easing Pot Laws
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