Last week, Vermont lawmakers took a last minute opportunity to pass two different bills that would legalize the use of cannabis for adults 21 and older. It was uncertain whether or not either of these bills would see a vote before next year as the session was supposed to have ended on Friday. However, they met again Wednesday for an extended session to complete a budget bill and the House took this opportunity to vote on and pass the legalization bill just passed by the Senate. With a 79-66 vote in favor of S.22, Vermont has become the first state to pass a recreational marijuana legalization bill through legislature.
The House had previously passed their own version of this bill – H.170 – the language of which the Senate added to a bill they wrote to create a commission to explore the possibilities for taxing and regulating cannabis in the future before passing it. It was this version of S.22 that the House voted on, which will remove all penalties for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis and legalize the cultivation of up to two plants per person, as well as create a commission that will help the state to tax and regulate the plant in the future.
“Vermont lawmakers made history today,” said Matt Simon, political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The legislature has taken a crucial step toward ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”
The only catches here are that the new laws wouldn’t go into effect until July 2018 – and it still has to be signed into law by Governor Phil Scott, who hasn’t decided whether or not he is going to do so yet. There is a chance that he will veto the bill as he has said multiple times that he doesn’t believe now is the right time to be worrying about legalizing marijuana. However, the majority of lawmakers in Vermont clearly disagree since they passed this legislation. This only makes sense considering nearby Maine and Massachusetts both voted to pass legalization laws last November, with legal sales starting in 2018.
“The administration will be at the table, along with the attorney general and others,” said Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. “With Massachusetts and Maine starting up in 2018, I think we need to continue this conversation.”
The commission that would be formed if this bill is signed into law would include two Senators, two House Representatives, one member of the public appointed by the House Speaker, one member of the public appointed by the Senate’s Committee on Committees, the Attorney General and one person he appoints, the Agricultural Secretary and someone he appoints, and one member appointed by Governor Scott. They would be tasked with determining the best way to go about taxing and regulating the plant – hopefully in time for lawmakers to pass a proper bill before the law would go into effect in summer 2018.
While there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of this bill, the fact that lawmakers were willing to pass it in the first place is a big step. If the governor signs this bill then this could be the start of many other states following this path of legalization through legislature. Many states are considering such laws, but none until now have managed to make it to the Governor’s desk. Hopefully Governor Scott decides to do the right thing here and pass this bill, let the commission find a way to properly tax and regulate the herb, and end prohibition in one more state.