Vermont Senate approves recreational marijuana bill

Published: Jan. 10, 2018 at 8:40 AM EST
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The Vermont Senate Wednesday afternoon approved a marijuana legalization bill.

"I think it reflects the will of Vermonters, and it's been an ongoing process for a long time," said Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

The vote make Vermont the first state in the country to authorize the recreational use of marijuana by an act of the Legislature as opposed to a ballot measure. The House passed the bill last week.

"I'm excited that we've gotten to this point again. I believe this is an important step, it's an important criminal justice reform. It's an important statement that the Vermont Legislature recognizes that prohibition is a failure," said Laura Subin with the Vt. Coalition to Regulate Marijuana.

Not all members of the Senate agree. Senator Brian Collamore, R-Rutland County, is among those who voted no. "I don't think it sends a particularly positive message to our youth, but that's probably going to be overcome with some educational efforts down the road," he said.

If the bill were to become come law here's what it would look like: Vermonters over the age of 21 would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of pot. They could also have two mature plants and four immature plants. Only one person can cultivate plants per dwelling and landlords can refuse to allow growing. It also includes a change demanded by Governor Phil Scott -- a new misdemeanor crime for providing anyone under 21 with marijuana.

Law enforcement, who have been pushing back, also say legalization is too much too soon. "The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police has not said no, hell no, fist-pounding no. We have said not yet. We're not ready, we don't have the infrastructure," said Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison, the group's president. Morrison says lawmakers are rushing. She wanted them to wait for a report from a special commission created by the governor last year. "This is arrogance to presume to know enough about this topic to take a vote without allowing the work of the commission to come forward."

Proponents disagree. They say this has been in the works for years. "This is not the result of one week's worth of work, as the senator from Bennington mentioned. It's really three years of pretty exhaustive committee time. I don't think there's a committee that hasn't worked on it in good faith," said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe.

We don't know when the Governor will act on this bill. It will take him some time to receive it. He'll then have five days to sign it or veto it. If he does nothing, it would become law without his signature. Advocates say they're counting on the governor to stick to his promise to sign it. Then they'll move on to the next phase.

"After that we look forward to advocating for a full taxed and regulated market for Vermont. We believe that this is the best approach for Vermont," Subin said.

The commission created by the governor last year won't release its final report until December, so further action on marijuana will likely take place in 2019.