Vermont Senate passes, governor excepted to sign, bill making pot legal for adults

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Vermont Senate passes, governor excepted to sign, bill making pot legal for adults

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:28pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Vermont is poised to become the ninth state to make marijuana legal for adults and the first to do so through its legislature. The bill, H511, received final approval on Wednesday from the Vermont Senate and will now make its way to the desk of Governor Phil Scott, who vetoed a similar bill in 2017. In December, Governor Phil Scott indicated that he would sign H 511 as amended into law. The Vermont House passed the bill last Thursday.

H511, generally referred to as the "recreational marijuana bill," would eliminate Vermont’s civil penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana and remove penalties for possession of up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants, beginning in July. After vetoing the bill, Scott said he would sign it if provisions regarding driving under the influence and keeping pot away from kids were strengthened. Changes to the bill were made with that guidance in mind. The Republican governor, however, has been at odds with his own party concerning the bill. GOP legislators would prefer to see more evidence on how legalizing marijuana has played out in other states, before Vermont takes the leap.

H511 (an act relating to highway safety) was the first bill to pass the House in the 2018 legislative session. It was amended last year to focus on the issue of legalizing marijuana for adult use. H511 then was amended by the Senate to include legalization language during the June 2017 veto override session and sent to the House for consideration. However, there were not enough votes to suspend rules and take up the bill for consideration, as GOP leadership did not support it, so H511 remained on the House calendar to be taken up in January. The bill does not allow for a tax and regulate system similar to what has been implemented in Colorado and Washington State.

“This is a big step forward for Vermont,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Vermonters should be proud that their state is becoming the first to do this legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative.”

Fifty-seven percent of Vermont voters support allowing adults 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana, according to a statewide survey of 755 registered voters conducted in March by Public Policy Polling. Only 39% are opposed. Nationwide support is similarly strong. An October 2017 Gallup poll found 64% of Americans support making marijuana legal.

Eight other states have enacted laws legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use, all through ballot initiatives. In Washington, D.C., voters approved a ballot initiative making personal possession and home cultivation legal for adults 21 and older. Vermont and 22 other states do not have a ballot initiative process. Those states’ marijuana laws can only be modified by legislatures.

The Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island legislatures are expected to seriously consider making marijuana legal for adults this year as well, and the New Hampshire House approved a similar measure on Tuesday. In Michigan, signatures have been submitted for a November 2018 ballot measure to regulate marijuana like alcohol for adults.