After a Wednesday, January 10 vote, it looks like Vermont will be the next state joining the adult-use marijuana movement. The Vermont State Senate approved recreational marijuana Wednesday according to WCAX, after the Vermont House of Representatives approved adult use of cannabis on January 4.
And while it may be too early for Vermonters to bust out the champagne or infused tinctures, the bill does appear poised to become law. Vermont Public Radio reports that Republican governor Phil Scott has said he’ll sign the recreational marijuana law. "I made that commitment," Scott told the station. "That was something that I was comfortable doing."
If the bill is indeed signed, Vermont would become the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana. The other adult use states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington — all approved their recreational marijuana via voter initiatives.
"I think it reflects the will of Vermonters, and it's been an ongoing process for a long time," Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman told WCAX.
The details of the law say that Vermonters age 21 and up would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or two mature plants and four immature plants.
Governor Scott is adding some restrictions in exchange for his signature. Most notably Scott demanded that it be made a criminal misdemeanor to provide cannabis to anyone under the age of 21.
But the move is still welcome news in Vermont, especially in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent moves to throttle the legalization movement.
“While prohibitionists like Attorney General Jeff Sessions desperately try to force our country to return to the dark ages, his flailing seems to be for naught, as Vermont is now positioned to be the first state to legalize marijuana possession by legislative action,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said on the NORML blog. “The American people have made their position clear, it is time to move away from the failed policies of the past and to move in the sensible direction of legalization. Vermont will likely be the first state to take such an action this year, it is unlikely to be the last with New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, Connecticut and others likely to give legalization legislation serious consideration during the 2018 legislative session.”
NORML also points out that one in five Americans now lives in a jurisdiction in which adult-use cannabis is legal (counting recreational states and the District of Columbia). Additionally, a majority of U.S. citizens now lives in a state that is either medicinal-use or recreational-use.
“For the second time in two years, Vermont lawmakers have rejected the failed Flat Earth policies of marijuana prohibition,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano added. ”The majority of Vermonters, like the majority of the American public, desire to live in a community where responsible adults who choose to consume cannabis are no longer criminalized or stigmatized. Governor Scott would be wise to provide Vermonters with this path forward, rather than cling to the failed policies of the past.”
Not everyone is thrilled with the legislation.
“The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police has not said no, hell no, fist-pounding no. We have said not yet. We're not ready, we don't have the infrastructure," Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison (who heads the association) told WCAX. "This is arrogance to presume to know enough about this topic to take a vote without allowing the work of the [special governor’s] commission to come forward."
That special governor’s commission is expected to release its report in December 2018.
“This is a big step forward for Vermont,” New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project said on the Marijuana Policy Project website. “Vermonters should be proud that their state is becoming the first to do this legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative.”
“This will be an important milestone for the legalization movement. When Gov. Scott signs this legislation, Vermont will become the first state in the country to end marijuana prohibition through legislative action,” interim executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Matthew Schweich added in. “MPP is proud to have helped lead the Vermont effort, just as we led the legalization ballot initiative campaigns in Maine and Massachusetts in 2016. In the past two years, we’ve seen incredible progress on marijuana policy across New England. Now that yet another state has rejected marijuana prohibition, there is even more pressure for Congress to take action to prevent any federal interference from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It’s time for the federal government to respect the authority of states to determine their own marijuana policies.”
If Gov. Scott signs the bill, recreational marijuana in Vermont would become legal effective on July 1, 2018.