How did marijuana become legal in Vermont?
For states such as Colorado, Oregon and California, legislators and voters alike have been able to enjoy the luxury of legalized recreational marijuana for quite some time. However, for Vermont, the battle of seeking legal approval has been a long and difficult process although it is finally legal there now. Vermont’s lawmakers have experienced a large amount of difficulty in their attempts to seek approval for a marijuana legalization bill. Efforts to expand the state’s medical marijuana program have been successful, however the fight to fully legalize marijuana has been recurring met with opposition.
Recently a bill was introduced that would have made possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legal, and would have allowed individuals to have two mature marijuana plants within their household. The bill made its way through the Vermont State Senate and House, although unfortunately it ended up being vetoed back in May by Governor Phil Scott. Scott followed up his veto with a list of concerns and suggested changes he recommended for the bill, signaling he still would be willing to seriously consider legislation. The Governor later further outlined his concerns, emphasizing that he was primarily concerned with the health and safety of children. Scott specifically asked for harsher penalties for the sale of marijuana to children and for smoking marijuana in a vehicle while a minor is present. The Senate quickly acted to include the requested changes, but unfortunately the House wasn’t able to pass the revised bill in the summertime due to procedural hurdles they were unable to overcome.
Although legislators were unable to get the bill passed before the end of 2017, there was still hope for it to gain approval when the legislature reconvened in January. Despite doubts that the bill wouldn’t receive the necessary support, the House of Representatives ended up voting 83 to 61 in favor of it in early January. This vote came as a surprise to some, especially because just hours earlier U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the removal of long-standing federal protections for state recreational marijuana programs.
From there, the bill made its way to the Senate, where it received final approval on January 11th. This approval by the Senate came with little surprise, considering that the Senate approved a nearly identical bill last year. Vermont’s governor, Phil Scott, had also indicated beforehand that he was comfortable with the legislation and that he promised to sign off on it.
Now that the Senate had approved the bill, Vermont has become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislature as opposed to a statewide ballot initiative. Vermont’s marijuana legislation is also unique in that the bill doesn’t contain measures for establishing a commercial market. Even though the bill passed, buying and selling marijuana is still prohibited, and no large-scale marijuana growing or selling operations is allowed.
Although some legislators are concerned with Jeff Sessions’ appeal of the Obama-era policies that enabled states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal guidance, it is still uncertain as to how it may affect Vermont’s legalization. When the bill was being presented to the House there actually was a proposal to delay consideration of the bill in light of the news of the federal enforcement policy change, however Representatives voted to reject the amendment. Along with the policy change from Jeff Sessions, the lack of a commercial marijuana market also has people wondering what the future of legalization is going to be like for Vermont. For now, it is uncertain to say how these factors may affect the future of Vermont’s recreational cannabis climate, but at least legislators can finally celebrate knowing that they have gotten their bill approved by the Senate and Vermont can finally enjoy recreational cannabis.