Vermont is expected to become the first U.S. state to end prohibition by an act of lawmakers.
Come January, Vermont may become the ninth state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana. The state has been close to legalizing marijuana for over a year, and now it appears that legislative approval could happen within weeks.
Vermont’s marijuana bill has already been approved by the Senate, and only needs to be approved in one more floor vote by the House to be presented to Gov. Phil Scott for consideration. That could happen any time after the legislature reconvenes on January 3.
Earlier this month, Scott announced that he would be “comfortable” signing the marijuana legalization bill into law.
“It’s not a high priority for me, but I did make a commitment that I was supportive of the bill that was put together,” he said.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said she expects the legislation to be approved by state lawmakers early next month.
History of Vermont’s Marijuana Legalization Bill
Vermont’s proposed marijuana bill is a revision of legislation that Scott vetoed last May. At the time, the governor returned that bill back to lawmakers, requesting specific revisions such as adding tougher penalties to those who provide marijuana to minors.
The Senate quickly rewrote the bill, making the requested adjustments. The House, however, was met with procedural hurdles and was unable to pass the revised legislation while in their short special session over the summer.
At the same time, Scott announced the creation of a commission to study adult use marijuana legalization and present recommendations, indicating he was still interested in eventually signing the bill.
If lawmakers do pass the bill, Vermont will become the ninth in the U.S. to end marijuana prohibition for adults. It will be the first of those, however, to legalize marijuana through legislative means rather than via voter approved ballot initiative, which was used to repeal marijuana prohibition in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.
“After years of starts and stops, Governor Scott and the legislature are finally on the same page with respect to cannabis policy reform, and it now seems clear that Vermont will legalize possession and personal cultivation within weeks,” Dave Silberman, a Middlebury attorney and cannabis policy reform advocate, said in an interview.
“This is a testament to the power of public pressure, after thousands of Vermonters called and wrote the governor in opposition to his veto of a nearly identical legalization bill just last May, and shows that, when it comes to drug policy reform, the more we speak, the more we win.”
Vermont’s Marijuana Legalization Bill
Vermont’s bill, S.22, would allow adults aged 21 years and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to two mature marijuana plants or four immature marijuana plants.
Vermont’s approach to legalization would be different than those of the other eight states with adult use legalization. As of now, the proposed legislation provides no framework for a sales and retail system. This means that initially there would be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana.
The legislation would, however, create a commission to study possible future commercialization, indicating that a sales and retail framework would be offered in the future.
Nearly 60 percent of Vermont voters are in support of adult use marijuana being legalized.
Marijuana Laws in the U.S.
Marijuana remains prohibited under federal law, classified as a Schedule I substance under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. However, in addition to the eight, and likely soon to be nine, states that have legalized recreational marijuana, 29 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana.
Attitudes regarding marijuana in the U.S. have shifted significantly in recent years, and legalization has subsequently expanded around the nation. The legalization of marijuana in Vermont could encourage more legislative action on cannabis in other states.
“Vermont now finds itself on the cusp of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through its legislature,” said Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in an email to Forbes.
“The legislative process is slower than the [ballot] initiative process by its very nature, but this exciting development should bring hope to the millions of reform supporters who live in states that don’t allow initiatives. I’m confident that other state legislatures will soon follow their lead.”