On June 21, 2017, during a one-day veto session, the Vermont Senate amended a House-passed bill — H. 511 — to make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate marijuana and to set up a commission to craft a regulatory bill. H. 511 addresses the concerns Gov. Phil Scott cited when vetoing a similar bill, S. 22. The Senate approved H. 511 in a voice vote, but the House did not get the three-quarters majority needed to take it up during the veto session. The House can consider H. 511 when it reconvenes, either during a special session or in January 2018.

Here is a summary of the bill:

Timeline

  • The legalization of possession and cultivation for adults and other changes to existing law would take effect on July 1, 2018.
  • Had the bill been enacted in time, the Marijuana Regulation Commission would have begun meeting by August 1, 2017, with an interim proposal — including draft legislation addressing certain issues — due to the Legislature by January 15, 2018. Its final report would be due by December 31, 2018.

Allowing Simple Possession and Cultivation for Adults

Adults 21 and older could:

  • Possess up to one ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish;
  • Cultivate up to two mature and four immature plants in a secure location (the plant limit applies to the entire dwelling); and
  • Possess the marijuana produced by the plants at the same secure location.

Penalty Reductions

  • Cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants by a person under 21 would be downgraded to a civil offense, punishable by court diversion and enrollment in the Youth Substance Abuse Safety Program. 

Limitations and Prohibited Acts

  • Providing marijuana to minors: Increases various penalties for dispensing marijuana to young people. For example, people over 21 who furnish marijuana to anyone under 21 — or who knowingly enable their consumption of marijuana — would face up to two years incarceration and/or a fine of up to $2,000. People aged 18-20 who dispense marijuana to youth who are three years younger than them would face up to five years in prison.
  • Dangerous extractions: Individuals who make marijuana concentrates with butane or hexane would face up to two years incarceration and/or a fine of up to $2,000. If someone were seriously injured as a result, they would face up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Public use: Consuming marijuana in public — including streets, sidewalks, places of public accommodation, and public buildings — would be illegal.
  • Secure cultivation: Marijuana cultivation must be screened from public view and secure from unauthorized access, including from those under 21.
  • Penalties for violating public use and secure cultivation provisions: The penalties for public consumption and breaking the security limitations on marijuana cultivation would be a civil fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $200 for a second offense, and up to $500 for additional offenses.
  • Vehicles: Possessing an “open container” of marijuana while driving would carry a civil fine of up to $200. Smoking marijuana while a minor is in the vehicle would be a crime carrying a fine of up to $500, which increases for subsequent offenses.
  • Day care: Using marijuana at a licensed child care facility or growing marijuana at a registered family child care home would be prohibited, and it carries a criminal fine starting at up to $500 for a first offense.
  • H. 511 would not:
    • Prevent municipalities from imposing additional civil penalties for public consumption of marijuana;
    • Modify or repeal prohibitions on driving under the influence;
    • Limit schools’ abilities to impose additional administrative penalties for marijuana possession on school grounds; or
    • Prevent landlords from prohibiting cannabis possession or use in a lease.

Marijuana Regulatory Commission

  • H. 511 would establish a 14-member study commission to “develop legislation that establishes a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market that, when compared to the current illegal marijuana market, increases public safety and reduces harm to public health, and results in net revenues to the state.”
  • The commission’s mandate includes examining best practices regarding:
    • Impaired driving;
    • Prevention and education for people under 21;
    • Consumer safety issues like pesticides, GMOs, and cannabis testing;
    • Regulating and taxing adult-use sales in a way that is economically sustainable, reduces the illicit market, and results in net revenues; and
    • Liability issues, including banking, landlords, and insurance.
  • The members would include two members of the House of Representatives, two senators, someone appointed by the governor, five regulators, the attorney general or designee, and the defender general or designee.
  • The first meeting is supposed to happen by August 1, 2017, which would now be impossible, and initial legislation would have to be submitted to the General Assembly and the governor by January 15, 2018. The final report and bill is due at the end of 2018. The commission would disband on March 15, 2019.

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