Vermont made history today by becoming the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through a legislative process, as opposed to voter initiative. Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) signed into law House Bill 511, which makes it legal for adults over 21 to possess up to one ounce of cannabis or five grams of hash, and removes penalties for possession and cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants and home.
"I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children,"
Governor Scott wrote in a press release.
When will the law be active?
The new law, will go into effect on July 1st, does not mention anything about creating a state market for the regulated production, sale, and taxation of marijuana. The bill calls for a task force selected by the governor to examine this issue and recommend a “legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market” by December 31.
Touching on the subject, Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman commented:
“The very broad sentiment from right to left is that nobody wants Big Cannabis to own Vermont, and whatever we do end up drafting for a tax-and-regulate bill will be oriented toward smaller production facilities and a more broad distribution of the economic benefit throughout the state, as opposed to large out of state corporate version.”
The eight states that have already legalized recreational marijuana have created taxed and regulated markets, although Maine and Massachusetts have yet to execute theirs. The only state to legalize marijuana without legalizing sales thus far has been the District of Columbia.
By legalization through legislation, rather than the ballot box, Vermont has made history. Without a doubt, the state has set a precedent for other states to follow suit, such as New Jersey later this year (as per Governor Phil Murphy’s campaign pledge), and perhaps even New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Mexico.
What this means on a broader scale
Vermont is sending a blatant message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The pro-legalization bill directly opposes the Attorney General’s reefer madness, but because the bill does not mention anything about commercial production and sales, there will be no cannabis businesses just yet to draw scrutiny.
Despite the improvements that Vermont’s cannabis policy might still need, the legalization bill is a huge step forward for Vermont and the country as a whole. It shows faith in the movement and faith in grassroots democracy.
Expect other legalization bills to appear soon. But Vermont was the first.