Vermont House considers eliminating marijuana penalties
Last update: February 13, 2017
On February 25, 2016, the Vermont Senate passed a comprehensive marijuana legalization and regulation bill, S. 241. The bill was supported by then-Governor Peter Shumlin and then-Attorney General William Sorrell, but it did not pass the House.
This year, the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee is sponsoring H. 170, a bill that would simply eliminate penalties for adults’ possession of two ounces or less of marijuana, up to two mature plants, and up to seven immature plants. If you live in Vermont, please email your representatives today and urge them to support H. 170.
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.
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, then-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 then-Attorney General William Sorrell and then-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.