Vermont legalization bill advances to Gov. Scott’s desk!
Last update: May 18, 2017
On May 10, 2017, the Vermont House of Representatives made history when it voted to approve the Senate’s amendment to S. 22 and send the bill to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk. Although eight other states have legalized marijuana by ballot initiative, this is the first time any state legislature has voted to pass a bill ending marijuana prohibition!
As amended, the bill would eliminate penalties for adults’ possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, two or fewer mature plants, and four or fewer immature plants, effective on July 1, 2018. S. 22 would also create a study commission to craft legislation on how to best regulate and tax marijuana in Vermont. The commission’s bill would have to be drafted in time for the beginning of next year’s legislative session.
The bill was delivered to Gov. Scott’s desk on May 18. He has five days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature. If you live in Vermont, please call Gov. Scott’s office today and urge him to sign S. 22. You can also send him an email in support.
Gov. Scott (R) has said that he is not yet ready to support marijuana legalization, but his spokesperson recently indicated that he will “take a closer look” at the final bill. With 57% popular support for legalization, and Maine and Massachusetts leading the way, we are hoping he will quickly evolve on the issue.
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.
The Senate passed a comprehensive legalization and regulation bill in 2016, but it did not pass the House.
Legislature passes bills to expand access for patients!
On May 10, 2017, the Vermont Senate voted to give final approval to 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 final bill, which reflects a compromise between the House and Senate, would also authorize one additional dispensary, and it would allowing existing dispensaries to open one additional location. Next, the bill will go to Gov. Scott’s desk.
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.