Vermont Senate votes to end marijuana prohibition; House vote fails, but legislators continue to study the issue
Last update: September 21, 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, where key committees did not support the Senate’s approach to marijuana regulation. The bill did not pass, but House and Senate leaders ultimately came together and agreed on a plan to continue studying the issue this fall. The study meetings began in mid-September.
Regardless of what happens with the study process, the upcoming November election presents a critical opportunity to set the stage for a successful effort in 2017. In the races for governor and lieutenant governor, there is a clear contrast between candidates: Democratic nominees Sue Minter and David Zuckerman support legalization and regulation, and Republican nominees Phil Scott and Randy Brock do not. Click here to check out MPP’s complete voter guide for the Vermont general election.
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.