Vermont Legislature First to Pass Marijuana Legalization Bill

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By Aaron Nicodemus

The Vermont General Assembly has become the first legislative body in the country to pass a bill to legalize marijuana.

The bill, passed by the Vermont House on May 10, would legalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by adults and order the creation of a commission to draft legislation that would regulate and tax the drug. It lists a legalization date of July 2018.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Gov. Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill into law. He indicated to reporters after the vote that “it is not a priority” of his administration.

Eight other states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but all of those efforts were launched by successful ballot initiatives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Vermont’s marijuana legalization bill, submitted by Sen. Richard W. Sears Jr. (D), had been declared dead two weeks ago when it passed the Senate but failed to receive enough votes in the House. On April 11, S. 22, originally a bill regarding fentanyl use, passed by a vote of 79-66 in the House. It was billed a compromise by Sears, who has championed marijuana legislation in the state. The text of the medical marijuana bill was attached to S. 22 from S. 16, which laid out the entire regulatory framework for medical marijuana legalization. That framework would now be developed by a commission.

“I’m very pleased to see the compromise bill I helped draft pass both chambers of the Vermont Legislature,” Sears told Bloomberg BNA via email. “It is my hope that the Governor will sign the bill and that Vermont can join its neighbors in Massachusetts and Maine in legalizing adult use of marijuana. Additionally, I look forward to working to establish a seed to sale regulated system in Vermont.”

No Reason to Rush

Rep. Kurt Wright (R) said he voted to decriminalize marijuana, and also in favor of a medical marijuana bill, but argued that legalizing marijuana for recreational use goes too far.

“I don’t see any reason to rush this, and I hope the governor vetoes it,” he said. “This is too big an issue to make a mistake.”

He said Colorado, which was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, is still collecting data on driving while drugged and teen access to marijuana. “Let’s get that information first, so we can make an informed decision,” he said.

The bill was also opposed by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, a national organization with a presence in Vermont.

“This legislation isn’t about criminal justice reform,” SAM president and CEO Kevin A. Sabet told Bloomberg BNA in an email. “This is about opening the doors to a new addictive industry being funded by Big Tobacco that will install retail pot shops in Vermont neighborhoods and lobby politicians to suppress common-sense regulation. We will continue to give a voice to parents, and public health and safety experts to encourage Governor Scott to choose people over profit and veto this harmful legislation.”

Earlier in the legislative session, the House voted to decriminalize marijuana, allowing adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow a small amount of plants in their home. Gov. Scott is expected to sign that bill.

Last year, the Vermont Senate passed a bill that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, but it died in the House.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Nicodemus in Boston at anicodemus@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bna.com

For More Information

Text of S. 22 is at http://src.bna.com/oLe.

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