An effort to ask Burlington voters in November if they support the legalization, taxation and regulation of cannabis and hemp went up in smoke Monday night when the measure failed by a six-six tie vote of the Burlington City Council.
The resolution was offered by Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) and backed by five of her colleagues: Councilors Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1), David Berezniak (D-Ward 2), Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1), Bram Kranichfeld (D-Ward 2) and Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5).
Those voting against the resolution were: Councilors Paul Decelles (R-Ward 7), Vince Dober (R-Ward 7), Nancy Kaplan (D-Ward 4), Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5), Karen Paul (I-Ward 6) and Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4).
Councilor Mary Kehoe (D-Ward 6) was absent and one Ward 3 council seat remains vacant.
A group of citizens had gathered about 1200 signatures, just shy of the 1600 needed to get an item on the city ballot. The ballot question would have been non-binding.
California and the city of Detroit are weighing in on the issue this fall, too.
The council deliberated on the motion for about a half hour. Several people spoke during a public forum in support of the measure, including independent candidate for governor Dennis Steele and independent candidate for lieutenant governor Peter Garritano.
Before the debate, Councilor Adrian passed around a bag of chocolate covered malt balls, "in case anyone gets the munchies during the discussion."
Adrian noted that "pot is not a panacea" but he thought it was worth allowing voters to weigh in on the issue to give lawmakers in Montpelier some guidance on the topic. Lawmakers have debated whether to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Montpelier voters in March voted three to one in favor of decriminalization.
Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) urged the council to support the resolution.
"Should we make alcohol illegal? We tried that and what happened was we were putting all of the profits into the hands of organized and sometimes unorganized crime," said Lorber. "The same is happening with keeping marijuana illegal."
It would have cost the city about $8000 to put the question to voters due to the cost of printing and distributing a citywide ballot, said Assistant CAO Scott Schrader. It would cost less if other questions were added. The Board of Finance is weighing whether to add a bond question for the Burlington Electric Department.
Councilors Decelles and Wright suggested the citizens should keep gathering signature and set a goal of getting the extra names in time for the March election.
"We don't put any time restriction for ballot questions, certainly between now and the March elections," said Wright. "They still have the ability to collect the signatures they need and come back."
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