Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Vermont legislature brings state to cusp of being first to legalize marijuana through standard legislation
As reported in this AP article, "the Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana, putting Vermont on course to become the first state in the country to legalize pot via legislative act rather than through a citizen referendum." Here is more:
By voice vote, the Senate agreed to the proposal that would make it legal for adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana but does not set up a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug. The state House approved the bill last week, and Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he would sign it....
The bill would allow adults older than 21 to possess of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in each dwelling unit no matter how many people live there. State senators who voted against the legislation did not ask for a roll call. The law would take effect July 1.
GOP Sen. Randy Brock of Franklin, Vt., who recently was appointed to fill a vacancy, said he voted against the bill after hearing opposition from educators, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and his constituents. He also was concerned that legalization would conflict with federal law. "This is a federal question," Brock said. "It needs to be decided federally."
If Scott signs the bill, Vermont will join eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Washington — and the District of Columbia where possession of small amounts of marijuana are legal for recreational use.
In spring 2016, Vermont's Legislature passed a similar bill, but Scott vetoed it because the Republican thought it didn't do enough to protect children from marijuana and ensure highway safety. Lawmakers changed the proposal to address the governor's concerns didn't have enough time to pass it during a short veto session in June.
While this bill does not contain a mechanism to tax and regulate marijuana, as some states do, lawmakers who favor legalization hope the bill will prompt the Legislature to do that later. The District of Columbia's pot initiative also does not have a mechanism for sales, regulation and taxation. "I hope this step leads us to tax and regulate," said Vermont state Sen. Richard Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The expected based on developments last year, this is still very big and important news and arguably start yet another new chapter in the history of marijuana reform. Whether and how the state considers moving forward with a commercial sale regime or sits tight with just legalization is one of many interesting next questions for the state.