A Senate-approved bill that would make marijuana legal for adults in Vermont was passed by the Vermont House of Representatives on Thursday with minor amendments. It will now go to the Senate for a final concurrence vote before being transmitted to Gov. Phil Scott, who vetoed a similar bill in 2017. In December, Gov. Scott indicated that he intends to sign H. 511 into law.
H. 511 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, beginning in July. Meanwhile, a governor-appointed task force will issue a final report on how the state should tax and regulate marijuana sales and commercial cultivation by December 15, 2018.
“Vermont is poised to make history by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana cultivation and possession legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative. We applaud lawmakers for heeding the calls of their constituents and taking this important step toward treating marijuana more like alcohol,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
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. Nationwide support is similarly strong. An October 2017 Gallup poll found 64% of Americans support making marijuana legal.
When the bill is signed, Vermont will become the ninth state to make marijuana legal for adults, and the first to do so through its legislature. Eight other states have enacted laws legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use, all through ballot initiatives. In Washington, D.C., voters approved a ballot initiative making personal possession and home cultivation legal for adults 21 and older. Vermont and 22 other states do not have a ballot initiative process. Those states’ marijuana laws can only be modified by legislatures.
The Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island legislatures are expected to seriously consider making marijuana legal for adults this year and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol. In Michigan, signatures have been submitted for a November 2018 ballot measure.
Vermont’s legislature approved this bill after an announcement earlier in the day by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Department of Justice policy of not targeting individuals and businesses in compliance with state marijuana laws had been rescinded.
“It is becoming clear that states are tired of helping the federal government enforce outdated and harmful marijuana polices and are ready to make this legal for adults,” said Matthew Schweich, interim executive director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The Vermont Legislature’s action underscores that states will continue leading the way toward more humane, sensible marijuana policies even if this administration reverts to the cruel and counterproductive federal policies of the past.”