Vermont has become the first state in the country to approve a bill for legalizing recreational marijuana. The bill works to legalize small amounts of marijuana possession and is expected to into effect in 2018. The bill also anticipates the possibility of a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market, and it was approved by the Vermont House of Representatives in a 79-66 vote. Because the state has already passed the bill, it will now move on directly to Republican Governor Phil Scott's desk.
Eight states in the nation, including Alaska, California, and Colorado, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws on the books legalizing marijuana after voters opted for legalization. However, not one state has legalized marijuana solely via legislation until now. Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, was quoted as saying: "I think it reflects that Vermont elected officials are more in touch with our constituents than a lot of elected officials in other states." He went on to say: "I think the public is ahead of us, but elected officials tend to be cautious when it comes to change."
The vote to legalize marijuana ended the debate over its legalization in the state, particularly in the state House. Controversy surrounding the vote encouraged Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, who hails from Burlington, VT, to predict that it would take "a miracle" for the legalization to pass this year. The proposal also incorporates H.170, a bill supported by the House that legalizes the possession of marijuana for up to one ounce, two matured marijuana plants, or four immature plants for adults over the age of 21 years.
The bill also includes a provision for establishing a nine-member commission whose purpose is to study the best way to regulate the drug. The proposal also continues to restrict the use of marijuana in public, as well as driving under its influence. It is also within the discretion of employers and landlords, as well as schools and prisons, to restrict the usage of marijuana on their premises. Democrat Susan Buckholz from Hartford, VT said that marijuana rates are actually declining among high school students, proving that the anti-drug educational programs the state has employed are actually working.
Says Buckholz: "We need to make a move to be treating this as a public health issue for those for whom it is a health issue and letting other people use this substance responsibly.” If Governor Scott signs this new bill, a marijuana regulation system would be put in place that would work to "[increase] public safety and [reduce its] harm [on the public's] health." Scott has repeatedly expressed his concerns in the past about marijuana's effects on highway safety. He can choose to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become the law without his signature.
Scott has declined to state whether he would veto the bill. Said Scott: ""I don't believe this is a priority for Vermont. I believe that what we should be doing is trying to find ways to protect those on our highways, 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. Having said that, I'm going to review the bill as it's passed."