Vermont is likely to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal non-medical use next month.
David Royse | LedeTree
Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said in an interview last week with Vermont Public Radio that a bill allowing possession is in line to come up early next month, and noted the idea was already approved by Vermont House members earlier in the year.
It didn’t become law then because Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it. But Scott and lawmakers agreed on some changes that he said would make the bill acceptable, and after those were made, the Senate passed the revised measure in a special session in June. The House, however, failed to take that bill up for procedural reasons.
“It’s just sitting on our House Notice Calendar … so it will be up for a vote in early January, and we will take a vote on it again, then,” Johnson said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio. Noting that the House has already approved the idea once, Johnson said she expects it will do so again.
“We’ve been talking with people and there hasn’t been a significant shift, so I expect it likely will pass in early January,” she said.
Scott, a Republican, said if the bill remains essentially the same, he’d be comfortable signing it.
“It’s not a high priority for me, but I did make a commitment that I was supportive of a bill that was put together,” Scott said, in a separate interview, also with Vermont Public Radio. “I made that commitment. It’s a libertarian approach and that was something that I was comfortable doing.”
The bill, while allowing for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis by people over 21, and the growing of a small number of marijuana plants, also includes language that would create a commission that would further study the marijuana issue, particularly including impaired driving and regulation and taxation.
But Scott preempted that part of the bill, creating such a commission on his own.
Johnson said that if that commission makes recommendations for additional legislation, lawmakers may take them up. But, she said those issues could be addressed separately, rather than changing the current legalization bill.
“We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what the bill currently says,” Johnson said in the radio interview. “The marijuana commission will provide some suggestions for further action, particularly on things like road safety…. We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible.”
The measure makes no provision for any retail marijuana market in the state, only legalizing possession and small-scale cultivation for personal use. Growers would be allowed to have no more than six plants at any time under the bill. Commercialization, however, could be an issue looked at by the commission.
In the proposed legislation, lawmakers noted much of the region is moving toward marijuana legalization. Voters in Massachusetts and Maine have approved possession and cultivation, and those states will begin allowing retail sales in 2018. Canada, which borders Vermont, also is expected to soon legalize it.
The bill also refers to past racial bias in the application of drug laws.
“By adopting a comprehensive regulatory structure for legalizing and licensing the marijuana market, Vermont can revise drug laws that have a disparate impact on racial minorities, help prevent access to marijuana by youths, better control the safety and quality of marijuana being consumed by Vermonters, substantially reduce the illegal marijuana market, and use revenues to support substance use prevention and education and enforcement of impaired driving laws,” the bill says.
If it becomes law, Vermont would be the first state where legislators have voted to make marijuana legal without being compelled by a voter referendum to do so.
New Jersey is also likely to consider legalizing marijuana, including retail sales, early in the new year. Newly-elected New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization.