Vermont is well on its way to making history by becoming the first state in the nation to end marijuana prohibition by way of the state legislature.
On Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to a proposal aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, one that would create a taxed and regulated system that would allow weed to be sold in retail outlets all over the state starting in 2018. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for their consideration.
Although there was some opposition throughout the entire negotiation process—some lawmakers argued it would destroy Vermont’s image, while others worried it did not take the concept of legal weed far enough—in the end, the Senate reached an agreement that will achieve Governor Peter Shumlin’s goal of eliminating the era of prohibition.
The bill (S.241) would allow Vermont residents to purchase up to a half ounce of weed at a time for personal consumption, while non-residents would be limited in purchasing only a quarter of an ounce. However, every citizen would be permitted to carry up to an ounce in public without legal consequence. And while marijuana edibles and home cultivation are not included in the proposal, it does come with a provision allowing the designation of a special commission responsible for researching the pros and cons of these issues for future consideration.
Prior to the vote, the Senate updated the commercial cultivation portion of the bill to make room for the development of smaller businesses. License fees for small growers would start at as little as $1,000, moving up to $25,000 for larger operations.
It is now up to the House of Representatives to decide whether Vermont will join the ranks of four other states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Judiciary Committee is expected to review the proposal sometime during the second week of March, giving way to the possibility of a full House vote before the end of next month.
House Speaker Shap Smith, who agrees that the current prohibition model is not working, said the outcome of a House vote remains uncertain because the bill did not come over with a tremendous amount of support from the Senate.
"I think that if you had seen a bill that came over with 20 votes or more that would have been a different signal,” he told Vermont publication Seven Days.
Drug Policy expert Tom Angell, founder of the Marijuana Majority, believes Vermont is poised to legalize marijuana this year, as long as the bill does not get hung up in the House.
"If the House follows the Senate and sends this bill to Gov. Shumlin's desk to be signed into law, it will mark the beginning of an important new phase of our movement,” Angell told HIGH TIMES. “Until now, all of our legalization victories have been achieved at the ballot box. But what's happening in Vermont signals that politicians have gotten the message that voters want marijuana law reform, and it means that we're going to see lawmakers in other states following suit soon.
(Photo Courtesy of New Republic)