Last year, many Vermonters were hopeful that their state would be the first to legalize cannabis through legislature rather than a citizens’ initiative – but those hopes were dashed when the bill didn’t make it out of the House. Since the start of the legislative session for this year, activists have been not so patiently waiting for a new legalization bill to be introduced, and they have been making sure that lawmakers remember that this is an issue that Vermont citizens feel strongly about.
A bill has been introduced in the House, but it is considerably scaled back and simple compared to the bill introduced in the Senate in 2016. The previous bill would not only have legalized the use and possession of marijuana, but also would have created a retail industry similar to that in Colorado (though they had considered excluding edibles). The bill introduced this year is more like the initiative that passed in Washington D.C., which legalized personal use, possession and cultivation – but does not tax and regulate sales.
“Last year was a whole different animal than it was this year,” Burditt says. “We have five new members on the committee this year, the numbers are totally different. Not that we’ve taken any votes, but I’m willing to bet that it will pass, and pass easily, in committee.”
If bill H.170 were to pass, it would legalize possession of up to two ounces of usable cannabis, as well as the home cultivation of up to two mature plants and up to seven immature plants at a time. In reality this is almost exactly what was passed by voters in D.C. back in 2014 – and while it doesn’t solve all the problems caused by prohibition (seeing as it does not address legal, or illegal sale of cannabis), it does get rid of unnecessary fines for possession of marijuana and get rid of charges for cultivating a reasonable number of plants in your home.
In the end, this is not necessarily the type of legalization that most activists want to see passed; last year’s bill would have been much more along the lines of what is expected with legalization. However, this would certainly be a huge step in the right direction – and when the decision is being made by lawmakers and not citizens, it makes sense that most of them would prefer to pass a much more conservative law when being the first to make such a move. Hopefully bill H.170 makes it through all the votes with a majority and finds itself ready for signature sometime in 2017.