Vermont is currently moving toward becoming the first U.S. state to legalize marijuana through legislation instead of a vote. This move comes after a lot of examination and consideration for how the rules and limitations of the legislation will be made. After a year of hearings in the Senate, lawmakers have decided that marijuana will be available for purchase to adults over 21 with a ban on home growing and a ban on the sale of marijuana in edible products.
Still Under Lawmaker Scrutiny
The bill was passed by the Senate in February and lawmakers have until the end of session in May to get this bill passed. Despite being a state that has a Democratic controlled house, the deadline is closely approaching and it’s unclear at this stage whether it will be passed. The new law would place a 25 percent tax on the sale of marijuana with the proceeds going toward drug education and drug law enforcement. This funding could help lawmakers decide whether or not to pass the bill.
Vermont’s in Good Company
If the marijuana legislation in Vermont passes, advocates believe it could help the rest of the country begin to accept new marijuana laws. Despite it still being considered an illegal drug by federal law, states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana through voting ballots, with other states like Massachusetts voting on marijuana legislation in November, potentially joining the number of states who have overturned the marijuana prohibition laws.
Governor Shumlin’s Strong Support for Marijuana Legislation
Governor Shumlin has stated that he believes the new marijuana legislation is “a smarter policy towards marijuana in Vermont.” He further explained “this bill will allow Vermont to undercut the black market and get rid of illegal drug dealers, focus on prevention and treatment, and do a better job than we do currently of keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and addressing drugged drivers who are already on Vermont’s roads.” Shumlin has stated that he will sign the legislation should the House approve it.
Diverse Proponents of Legalization
Many clergy and faith leaders have signed a letter supporting the new legislation, feeling it wise to end the prohibition on marijuana. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell along with previous Attorney Generals Jerome Diamond and Kimberly Cheney have also sent letters that stated their support for the legislation. A poll conducted by Vermont Public Radio showed that 55 percent of Vermont residents were in favor of the bill with only 32 percent opposing it.
The Statistics Have Spoken
Given that studies show that one in eight Vermont residents currently smoke marijuana illegally, many believe it is unrealistic and unfair to keep prohibition in place. Matt Simon, political director of the Marijuana Policy Project New England, has stated that most members of the Senate see how regulating marijuana through this legislation will make communities safer and believes that the objective House members will agree.
We will soon know how the House votes and, if the law is passed, how it will affect voters across the country who are voting whether to legalize marijuana this November as well marijuana legislation across the country in the future.