Vermont will consider legalization again in 2017 after electing new governor and legislature
Last update: November 10, 2016
On February 25, 2016, following weeks of testimony and careful deliberation, the Vermont Senate made history when it voted 17-12 to pass S. 241 and send it to the House of Representatives. This bill would have ended Vermont’s prohibition of marijuana for adults 21 and older, creating a regulated and taxed system for marijuana production and sale.
The bill encountered obstacles in the House and did not pass, but House and Senate leaders ultimately came together and agreed on a plan to continue studying the issue. The study meetings began in mid-September and are scheduled to conclude in November.
On November 8, 2016, Vermont elected a new governor, Phil Scott (R), who said he is not yet ready to support marijuana legalization. However, the fact that Massachusetts and Maine both passed legalization ballot initiatives in 2016 may further encourage the legislature and may help convince the new governor to support legalization in 2017. In other positive news, reform champion David Zuckerman (P/D) won his race for lieutenant governor, defeating prohibitionist Randy Brock (R).
The case for regulating and taxing marijuana in Vermont was bolstered in February 2016, when a poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute found 55% support for the idea. Only 32% of Vermonters said they were opposed.
The previous year, the Rand Corporation presented a legislatively-commissioned in-depth report on marijuana legalization and regulation options in Vermont. The 2015 report noted that about 80,000 Vermonters regularly consume marijuana, and they spend about $175 million each year buying cannabis. RAND researchers estimated Vermont could generate $20 million to $75 million annually in taxes by regulating cannabis.
Legislature passes bills to expand access for patients!
In 2016, the Vermont Legislature agreed to improve the medical marijuana law by passing S. 14, an MPP-supported bill that would enable patients with glaucoma or chronic pain to qualify for the program. (Previously, the standard was “severe pain” — a much higher standard than “chronic pain.”) The new law also reduced the required minimum provider-patient relationship period from six months to three months and included other small, yet positive, changes. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law on June 6, and it went into effect July 1.
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.
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.