Vermont lawmakers made history this week when both the Senate and the House passed a law that would legalize small quantities of marijuana for recreational use. Bill S.22 passed the House on Wednesday, 79 to 66, making it legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and up to 2 mature plants by July 2018. The bill also requires that a commission of 9 people be created in order to research and decide upon the best methods to tax and regulate the plant. This is the first time that a marijuana law has been passed through legislature as opposed to through a public vote.
Hinging on Governor Approval
The bill has now been sent to Gov. Phil Scott to sign the bill into law or have it vetoed. Right now it is unclear what the Governor will choose to do. A first term Republican, Scott has been vocal about not believing marijuana reform to be a priority for Vermont right now. While he does seem to believe that the legalization of marijuana is “inevitable” he has expressed other concerns. “I believe that what we should be doing is trying to find ways to protect those on our highways, to deliver a level of impairment that is consistent throughout the northeast, as well as to address the edibles for our kids before we move forward with legalization,” says Scott.
Cannabis Legalization Sweeping the Northeast
States in the Northeast have been undergoing marijuana reform recently with Maine and Massachusetts legalizing the plant for recreational use last November and states like Rhode Island in talks to legalize it through legislature. Currently, 8 states, including California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska as well as Washington D.C., have ended prohibition. If Scott signs the bill this would make Vermont the 9th state to have legal marijuana, making over 20 percent of the country a pot friendly zone.
The Voice of Prohibition
While marijuana advocates celebrated the progress made by legislature, prohibitionists made their disappointment very clear. They have promised to continue fighting to make marijuana illegal and voice concerns for public safety and on behalf of parents. In states where marijuana is legal, teen use has not risen at all. In some cases it’s actually been reduced. Marijuana use has already been declining amongst teens in Vermont, falling to 37 percent according to the most recent Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Based on these statistics, the likelihood of a public health incident being caused by the legalization of marijuana is very slim.
The bill would still ban driving under the influence and ban smoking in public places. Employers, landlords, schools and prisons would still be allowed to restrict the use of marijuana. These factors may help to ease Scott’s concerns. The bill that has been approved was a compromised version of a previous bill that would have also allowed for a commercial industry to be created in Vermont. Scott has not committed either way, signing or vetoing the bill. He has made it clear that he will review the legislation before making his decision.