In a first in the nation event, the fate of legal adult cannabis — having passed both houses of the state legislature in Vermont — now lays in the hands of Governor Phil Scott (R), who could make the Green Mountain State the ninth in the U.S. to remove all criminal and civil penalties for the adult use of cannabis.
The Vermont House of Representatives voted Wednesday in favor of backing a version of the legalization bill that came out of the state Senate late last week. In doing so, Vermont became the first state to pass the legalization of cannabis through both houses of government and not a ballot initiative funded by supporters.
While it wouldn’t go into effect until July 2018, the new law would eliminate Vermont’s civil penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana and remove penalties for possession of up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants. It would also create a study commission to develop legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.
Originally, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Maxine Grad (D), and Rep. Thomas Burditt (R) proposed removing all criminal and civil penalties for possessing less than two ounces and no more than two mature marijuana plants with seven immature plants.
Supporters are thrilled with the progress and have high hopes a standoffish Governor will see the bill that ultimately made it to his desk as the middle ground — getting people out of handcuffs is always the primary goal of cannabis activists these days, despite a booming industry.
“Vermont lawmakers made history today,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project in a statement on the day’s victory. “The Legislature has taken a crucial step toward ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. There is no rational reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol.”
Simon added the Governor is the final person who needs to get on board
“It’s time for Vermont to move forward with a more sensible marijuana policy,” he said. “The voters and the Legislature are behind it, and we hope the governor will be too.”
When the bill was first introduced, it was part of a larger criminal justice overhaul in the state. At the time, Simon said senior members of the Judiciary Committee who introduced the bill were coming from a very criminal justice-centric approach on the issue and “didn’t want to deal with hearing the tax aspects in their committee.”
Had the more expanded version of legalization passed last year, supporters would have been dealing with a much more supportive Governor. Then-Governor Shumlin was, in fact, bummed it didn’t work out under his watch.
After thanking house members who backed last year’s effort he said as much.
“It is incredibly disappointing, however, that a majority of the House has shown a remarkable disregard for the sentiment of most Vermonters who understand that we must pursue a smarter policy when it comes to marijuana in this state,” he said.
Unfortunately, the new administration doesn’t have the same love of progressive drug policy reform.
“I have said ‘not right now.’ We have four other states that have legalized until we have answers to the questions, the governor of Colorado said why don’t you wait a few years,” Scott told Vermont Public Radio last June. “I’m not saying never, the timing is not right.”
The state’s longtime pro-pot Lieutenant-Governor, David Zuckerman, told the Burlington Free Press that this is not a majority opinion in the executive branch.
“I think it reflects that Vermont elected officials are more in touch with our constituents than a lot of elected officials in other states,” Zuckerman said. “I think the public is ahead of us, but elected officials tend to be cautious when it comes to change.”
Fifty-seven percent of Vermont voters support allowing adults 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana, according to a statewide survey of 755 registered voters conducted in March by Public Policy Polling.
Only 39% are opposed.
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