Vermont decriminalization bill advances to governor's desk!
The Vermont Legislature has agreed to eliminate the state’s criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and replace them with civil fines. This is a major victory for MPP and its legislative allies in Montpelier, who have worked hard to build support for this sensible reform!
H. 200 has received final approval from the House and Senate and will soon advance to Gov. Shumlin’s desk, where it will receive his signature.
Click here for details on how H. 200 will change Vermont’s penalty structure.
Leading law enforcement officials supported the bill, including Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn. H. 200 passed the House April 16 in a 92-49 vote and was approved 24-6 by the Senate May 7. The House gave its final approval to the Senate’s amendments May 13, sending the bill forward to Gov. Shumlin’s desk.
To make sure you don’t miss any updates on the progress of this bill, be sure to sign up for MPP’s email alerts.
Poll shows support for reducing possession penalties
A Public Policy Polling survey of Vermont voters conducted February 11-12, 2012 showed strong support for reducing marijuana possession penalties. Sixty-three percent support “a change in the law to provide for a fine of up to $150 without jail time for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use.” (Current Vermont law provides for a jail term of up to six months and a fine of up to $500.) Only 29% said they opposed the reform.
The poll also found that 74% of respondents believe marijuana is as safe or safer than alcohol. Only 15% of those surveyed said they believe alcohol is safer. Complete poll results are available here.
Dispensary implementation moves forward
In 2011, with support from Gov. Shumlin, we had a chance to improve on Vermont’s medical marijuana law and we took it. With the help of patients and advocates throughout Vermont, the legislature passed S. 17, a bill authorizing up to four medical marijuana dispensaries, meaning patients in Vermont will finally have a safe, legal way to obtain their medicine without having to grow their own.
The department received five applications in 2012, and it announced September 12 that two applicants have been granted conditional approval. One applicant, Champlain Valley Dispensary, has been approved for Burlington and a second applicant, Patients First Inc., has been approved for Waterbury. These two dispensaries are preparing to open within a few months, and two additional dispensary applicants were approved in early 2013.
To view the rules for the Vermont Marijuana Program (VMP), please visit the Vermont Criminal Information Center website.
70% of Burlington voters say they support ending marijuana prohibition; bill introduced
In the 2012 general election, voters in Burlington overwhelmingly approved a ballot question indicating support for ending marijuana prohibition. Seventy percent of Burlington voters said “Yes” to this question: “Shall the people of Burlington support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”
For the first time since 2005, a bill has been introduced that would do just that. Sen. Susan Hatch Davis and four co-sponsors filed H.499, which would allow adults 21 years and older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana. It would take marijuana sales off the criminal market and regulate and tax them through the Department of Liquor Control. In addition to creating jobs and revenue from a legal marijuana industry, HB 499 would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp, bringing more agricultural jobs to the state.
Non-medical marijuana laws in Vermont
Vermont’s marijuana laws (18 V.S.A. § 4230) are relatively harsh given the state’s relaxed reputation. Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. The good news: first-time offenders are eligible for deferral of their sentence. The bad news: second time offenders can be sentenced to two years incarceration and a fine of up to $2,000.
So, are these harsh penalties working? According to this excellent summary by Jon Gettman, Ph.D., the arrest rate for marijuana offenses in Vermont went up over 4% annually from 2003 to 2007 — but rather than reducing marijuana use, past-month use rates actually went up during this period, from 52,000 to 54,000. This shows, as MPP has known for some time, that marijuana penalties and enforcement patterns have little to no impact on marijuana use rates. The state could better protect its citizens by decriminalizing marijuana and freeing up valuable law enforcement resources to combat violent crimes and other real threats to public safety. It takes less than a minute to ask your legislators to do just that.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Vermont, be sure to subscribe to MPP's free legislative alert service.