Key Vermont House committee votes to eliminate marijuana penalties
Last update: March 22, 2017
Last year, the Vermont Senate passed a comprehensive marijuana legalization and regulation bill, S. 241, which was was supported by then-Governor Peter Shumlin and then-Attorney General William Sorrell. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass through the House.
This year, the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee is sponsoring H. 170, which would simply eliminate penalties for adults’ possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, up to two mature plants, and up to four immature plants — as well as the marijuana that is produced by those plants, if it is stored in accordance with the law.
This bill passed the House Judiciary Committee in a 8-3 vote on March 22, 2017. The full House could vote on the proposal any day. If you live in Vermont, please call or email your representatives today and urge them to support H. 170.
Vermont’s new governor, Phil Scott (R), has said that 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 H. 170.
The case for reforming marijuana laws in Vermont was bolstered in March 2017, when a poll commissioned by MPP and conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 57% of Vermonters support H. 170.
In 2015, the Rand Corporation presented a legislatively-commissioned in-depth report on marijuana legalization and regulation options in Vermont. The report noted that about 80,000 Vermonters regularly consume marijuana, and they spend about $175 million each year buying cannabis.
Senate passes bills to expand access for patients!
On February 17, 2017, the Vermont Senate passed S. 16, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Parkinson’s disease, and Crohn’s disease to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. The bill would also authorize four additional dispensaries. Next, S. 16 will be considered by the House.
In 2016, the Vermont Legislature and then-Gov. Peter Shumlin agreed to improve the medical marijuana law by passing S. 14, an MPP-supported bill that enables 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.
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.