Vermont lawmakers discuss best way to end marijuana prohibition
On January 16, 2015, researchers from the Rand Corporation presented legislators with an in-depth report on marijuana legalization and regulation options in Vermont. The report, which was authorized by the legislature in 2014, revealed that approximately 80,000 Vermonters are regular marijuana users, and that they spend between $125 million and $225 million each year buying cannabis from the illicit market. The researchers estimated that Vermont could reap between $20 million and $75 million per year in taxes if it decides to regulate.
Following the release of the report, Gov. Peter Shumlin said he favors legalization and wants Vermont to move forward in a responsible fashion. Additionally, Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn has said he supports taking “a hard look” at the idea, and Health Commissioner Harry Chen has said he is “open” to the issue. Attorney General William Sorrell and many legislators have gone further by saying they support regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol. Clearly, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for ending marijuana prohibition in Vermont.
The case for regulating and taxing marijuana in Vermont was bolstered in May 2014, when a poll commissioned by MPP and conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute found 57% support for the idea. Only 34% of Vermonters said they were opposed.
In 2015, Senator David Zuckerman (P-Hinesburg) introduced S. 95, a bill that would replace Vermont’s prohibition with a system of sensible regulation. Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) introduced an identical bill in the House. Please take a moment to send a message to your legislators asking them to end Vermont’s pointless and counterproductive war on marijuana.
Although the legislature has not taken action on the marijuana regulation bills this year, an important Senate committee held several meetings seeking to determine “The Vermont Way” to end prohibition. These meetings are expected to lay groundwork for a new marijuana regulation bill that will have a chance of becoming law in 2016.
The Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana is working to organize statewide support for ending prohibition. Click here to get involved with this historic effort.
Legislature passes bill to expand access for patients!
In 2014, MPP worked with the legislature to expand Vermont’s law so more patients can benefit from safe, legal access. S. 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), passed the House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Shumlin May 27. This change in law eliminated the cap of 1,000 patients who were allowed to access dispensaries. It also allowed naturopaths to certify patients, allowed dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients, and called for a study of the potential impacts of legalization and regulation. To view the rules for the Vermont Marijuana Program (VMP), please visit the Vermont Criminal Information Center website.
Vermont decriminalizes marijuana possession
On June 6, 2013, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed H. 200, which eliminated the state’s criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and replaced them with civil fines. This was a major victory for MPP and its legislative allies in Montpelier, who worked hard to build support for this sensible reform. Leading law enforcement officials, including Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, supported the bill, which went into effect July 1, 2013.
MPP's New England Political Director Matt Simon and Gov. Peter Shumlin at the signing ceremony for H. 200.
Click here for details on how H. 200 changed Vermont’s penalty structure.
As a result of this reform, Vermont police and prosecutors now waste less time and taxpayer money on enforcing laws against marijuana possession. Individuals caught possessing an ounce or less of marijuana in the Green Mountain State are now fined but do not receive a criminal conviction. Those under 21 are now generally sent to diversion.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Vermont, be sure to subscribe to MPP's free legislative alert service.