Vermont became the latest state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana possession Thursday when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law legislation that eliminates criminal penalties for the possession of ounce or less by an adult.
“This change just makes common sense,” Schumlin said in a statement. “Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana.”
The new law replaces criminal penalties with a civil fine for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis or 5 grams of hashish. Applicable to those 21 and older, the law’s provisions for possession under the age of 21 are the same as the underage alcohol possession with court referrals for a first offense followed by civil penalties and/or license suspension and criminal penalties for a third offense.
“Half the funds collected under this law will go to the Vermont Drug Task Force, which focuses on targeting mid- to high-level drug dealers and combating the use of heroin in Vermont,” a release issued by Shumlin said.
The state joins 16 others including California and New York in adopting legislation that regards the possession of recreational marijuana as a civil rather than criminal offense.
Under previous law, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana in Vermont was punishable by a six-to-24-month jail term. The new law will go into effect July 1.
Vermont legalized cannabis for medical use in 2004 and is slated to open its first medical marijuana dispensaries later this month.