MONTPELIER, Vt. — One neighbor sits on her porch, smoking legal marijuana on private property. The smoke and smell waft down the street, causing another neighbor to complain

St. Johnsbury Police Chief Tim Page wants his town to be able to classify marijuana odor as a public nuisance, which requires approval from the Legislature. Page spoke to the House Committee on Government Operations on Thursday, March 1, 2018.
APRIL MCCULLUM/FREE PRESS

Should local police have authority to ticket the smokers?

A bill under consideration in the House of Representatives would allow Vermont cities and towns to classify marijuana odor as a "public nuisance," a ticketable offense. 

"I feel, as a non-marijuana user, that I should not have somebody else's use impact my life," said South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple, who spoke in favor of the bill Thursday at the House Committee on Government Operations.

Whipple acknowledged that he has never received a complaint about odor from medical marijuana, which has been legal in Vermont since 2004, nor does his department receive many complaints about cigarette smoke. 

"Arguably, it's a stronger odor than cigarette smoke," said Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden.

The state's adult-use marijuana law, which takes effect in July, prohibits people from consuming marijuana in public places, including streets, sidewalks and hotels. 

H. 819, which was introduced at the request of officials in St. Johnsbury, would give cities and towns additional authority to handle complaints about marijuana consumption on private property. 

"We don't want it to be so overly restrictive that it denies the person their right of use," said St. Johnsbury Police Chief Tim Page, who spoke in favor of the bill.

Gov. Phil Scott's marijuana commission supports the bill, as does the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

Under Vermont's legalization structure, landlords may prohibit tenants from consuming marijuana, and tenants who want to grow cannabis plants must obtain written permission from their landlords. 

Angela Zaikowski, director of the Vermont Apartment Owners Association, questioned whether marijuana nuisance ordinances are necessary. She worries that landlords could be fined for their tenants' marijuana smoke. 

"We might be jumping the gun on this one a little bit," Rep. Cindy Weed, P-Enosburg. "What problem are we trying to solve?"

The House Committee on Government Operations is scheduled to vote on the bill Friday morning. 

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