Vermont Makes History with Marijuana Legalization Bill

Vermont is poised to become the 30th U.S. state to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational consumption, and the first state to legalize adults’ possession and limited cultivation of marijuana through an act of the legislature, rather than by popular ballot proposition.

A bill that would make marijuana legal for adults in Vermont received final approval Wednesday from the Vermont Senate and will soon make its way to the desk of 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.

“This is a big step forward for Vermont,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Vermonters should be proud that their state is becoming the first to do this legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative.”

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 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.

Vermonters should be proud that their state is becoming the first to do this legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative.
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project

Vermont is poised to become the ninth state to make recreational marijuana legal for adults, the 30th to make it legal for recreational or medicinal purposes, and the first in U.S. history to do so through its legislature, indicating a major change in political headwinds on the subject of marijuana legalization.

Vermont and 22 other states do not have a ballot initiative process. Those states’ marijuana laws can only be modified by legislatures.

In a press release, Matthew Schweich, interim executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project said:

“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. 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.”

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 as well, and the New Hampshire House approved a similar measure on Tuesday.

In Michigan, signatures have been submitted for a November 2018 ballot measure to regulate marijuana like alcohol for adults.

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