Students mock trial bill 217 at Capitol

Sitting in a Vermont State House committee
meeting room, a group sat around the table with papers in front of them. One by one, they expressed their positions and ideas on House bill 217, a proposed decriminalization of the possession of marijuana. By the end of the meeting, they were passionately conveying their concerns and ideas about the controversial bill.But these weren’t average Vermont state politicians. They were Castleton students.

Students from the Media & Politics class ventured to the state’s capitol Oct. 25 to visit the Vermont State House and Vermont Supreme Court. Sanjukta Ghosh, a communication professor, wanted her class to “come back more energized about politics.”

The group of eight followed State House tour guide Susan Clark around on a tour and learned some quirks about the State House’s architecture, including a curved wall that people, when standing on either end, could whisper to one another and hear it as clear as if standing directly beside each other.

Clark referred to it as a “really romantic
building” and students were intrigued by the architecture.

“It was like you were back in history,” said junior Danielle Galbreath.

After the tour, the students role played the bill debate. House bill 217 proposes the penalty of possession for one ounce of marijuana or less be reduced to a civil penalty of $100.

Before embarking on their trip, students
were assigned to prepare their arguments.

“It was easier to go in there knowing points,” said senior Beth Fleck. “You went in knowing what you wanted to say.”

Other students had a less planned approach.”I really didn’t have a set opinion. I can go either way,” said junior Tyson Turner.

Students gave their stances on whether or not they would pass the bill.

Using statistics, personal opinions and previous cases, students deliberated and ultimately amended the bill to include a “three strikes and you’re out” rule and a provision to protect people who receive financial help from immediately having that terminated.

Going through the process opened students’ eyes about Vermont legislature.

“I’m happy to see the legislature has to go through quite a bit of process and deliberation before anything can be passed,” commented Fleck.

After working their way through the bill process inside the State House, the class moved onto the Vermont Supreme Court.

“We didn’t even know where the Supreme Court building was,” Galbreath said, laughing.

Students ended their day by role playing a previous Supreme Court case involving the ownership of a hunting dog that became lost and ultimately found a new home with an older woman.

Taking on the roles of the two parties involved and three of the five Supreme Court justices, students once again debated.

“Everyone liked the Supreme Court role,” Ghosh commented.

The two parties explained their sides, throwing remarks at one another, and trying to get a final say into the argument after they had already made their argument. In the end, the three appointed court justices
agreed unanimously to let the older woman keep the dog.

“I didn’t know a lot of stuff to do with the process in general,” said Melissa Shaw, a junior who played the role of a court justice. “Sitting in a judge’s seat – I thought was pretty cool.