New group works to decriminalize small 'personal use' amounts of drugs

Vermont Business Magazine Decriminalize Vermont, a broad coalition of organizations dedicated to social and economic justice, including criminal justice, drug policy, and law enforcement reform, announced its public launch today.

Decriminalize Vermont is working alongside a group of 42 Democratic, Progressive, and Independent state legislators to advance a groundbreaking bill, H.644, that would decriminalize possession of small “personal use” amounts of drugs.

This initiative builds on the growing support in Vermont and across the nation for approaching drugs and drug use through the lens of public health rather than continuing the failed “War on Drugs” approach.

With nearly a third of the chamber signed on as original co-sponsors, H.644 is the most broadly-supported decriminalization bill in the nation.

Several coalition members testified at hearings held by the House Committee on Judiciary on H.644 over the past few weeks.

“Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice,” said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. “We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session.”

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

“Vermonters have long called for a public health approach to substance use, and yet we as a state have not done nearly enough to make that vision a reality,” said Jay Diaz, General Counsel at ACLU-VT. “As the devastating human toll of the state’s failed war on drugs becomes more apparent every year, it is time to insist on bolder, more ambitious solutions – including badly overdue drug policy reforms – that respect the dignity, health, and well-being of every member of our community.”

The coalition includes the following Founding Organizational Members: American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont (ACLU-VT), Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

Decriminalize Vermont is a Vermont-based coalition dedicated to creating a healthier and more just Vermont by reducing the harms and injustices embedded in Vermont’s current drug laws.

Montpelier, VT (February 16, 2022) — Decriminalize Vermont