Vermont Governor Pardons Hundreds of Marijuana Convictions

By Paul Gaita 01/04/17

"If it’s going to be legal to buy in so many states now across America, why would we still be punishing the folks that got convicted for an ounce or less many years ago?"

Gov. Peter Shumlin
Photo via YouTube

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, in his final days in office, made good on an offer to pardon convictions for marijuana possession, among other felonies and misdemeanors, and forgave nearly 200 individuals since last week.

Shumlin already pardoned 10 people on Dec. 31, including the son of former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, before pardoning an additional 192 individuals with misdemeanor marijuana convictions on Jan. 3. This brings the total number of people pardoned by Shumlin since taking office in 2010 to 208—more than any other governor in the history of the state, according to his office.

Shumlin, who declined to run for a fourth term after the 2014 election, has been a dedicated proponent of marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State for years. In 2013 he signed into law a decriminalization measure which reduced penalties for first-time offenders to a $200 fine.

In December, the governor invited Vermont residents with possession convictions of up to one ounce, and no felony convictions or history of violent criminal activity on their record, to apply for a Christmas pardon via his website.

Shumlin's office received close to 450 applications, which his staff reviewed with other agencies including the Vermont Crime Information Center. The individuals he pardoned had convictions dating from the late 1970s to the early 2000s for a wide array of offenses.

The majority of them involved convictions for marijuana possession, while others included convictions for domestic assault, criminal mischief, and in the case of John Zaccaro Jr., the sale of cocaine. Zaccaro, the son of Geraldine Ferraro, was convicted of selling a quarter of a gram of cocaine to an undercover police officer in 1988 and served four months under house arrest.

Shumlin has stated that his decision to grant the pardons was based on giving a second chance to individuals he believed had fallen victim to outdated drug policies. "It could have happened in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s," he said in December. "We've got folks who got charged for an ounce or less of marijuana in a different era when we were running a failed War on Drugs."

"As we see legalization happening in Massachusetts and Maine and a number of other states, you have to ask the question: if it’s going to be legal to buy in so many states now across America, why would we still be punishing the folks that got convicted for an ounce or less, you know, many years ago?"

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.