Vermont is poised to make marijuana history. Yesterday, the state House of Representatives approved a bill that would legalize the possession, use and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The bill is now headed for the desk of Governor Phil Scott for final approval. If signed, Vermont would become the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana and the first to do so through the state legislature rather than ballot initiative - where activist groups gather signatures to put issues on state ballots for voters to decide.
If signed, the new law would take effect in July 2018.
The bill also stands out because it is the strictest recreational legislation that we've seen get passed so far. People in Vermont would be allowed to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to two mature plants or four immature plants at home, which is similar to the rules in states like Colorado. But unlike other legal states, Vermont didn't include a plan to tax and regulate a recreational marijuana market in their legislation. That means if the bill gets signed, people in Vermont would be allowed to smoke pot, but they wouldn't be able to buy it from a legal source. They would have to grow it themselves.
However, the bill will create a commission to develop regulations for a retail market. So people will be able to buy marijuana in Vermont at some point in the (hopefully) near future - maybe even around the same time that the law comes into effect.
Despite those restrictions, activists are celebrating the bill as a victory for the legalization movement.
“Vermont lawmakers made history today,” Matt Simon - New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project - said via press release. “The legislature has taken a crucial step toward ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. There is no rational reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol."
A Win Either Way
The bill's success is especially significant for Simon, who advocated for legalization during the state's failed attempt to get a marijuana bill through the legislature last year. "Definitely the best is yet to come," Simon told Civilized after the bill was defeated in May 2016. "I hate losing but we're not losing. We're on the way to marijuana being legal across New England in the next two to three years."
Looking back, Simon's words are almost prophetic. Last November, Maine and Massachusetts became the first two legal states in New England. But we don't know if Governor Scott is keen on making Vermont the third. While running for office last year, he supported a cautious approach to legalization.
"I've been consistent in my response [to recreational marijuana]," he told VPR in June 2016. "I’ve said, 'Not right now.' I don't think we have enough information at this point. We have four other states that have legalized right now...We'll learn from them. We can’t afford to make any mistakes here. So I’m not saying never. I'm saying the timing's not right. It’s not now."
Since then, the number of legal states has doubled from four to eight. But Scott hasn't said if he's ready to follow suit yet. But his office has pledged to study the bill closely to see if it satisfies his concerns over public health and safety.
But even if the governor vetoes it, Vermont will have made history. A recreational marijuana legalization bill has never made it this far in a state legislature before. But more will probably start to appear on the desks of governors across the country thanks to the Green Mountain State.
Banner image: Governor Phil Scott / wikipedia.org