Vermont Set To Become First State To Legalize Pot Through Legislature

By Kelly Burch 01/12/18
Governor Phil Scott plans to sign the legislation, which would legalize possession but not retail sales.
marijuana leaves and a gloved hand manicuring them.

Both houses of the Vermont legislature have passed a bill that legalizes marijuana possession and use. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Phil Scott soon, which will make Vermont the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action rather than a voter referendum.

The state, which already has a medical marijuana program, will become the ninth state to legalize the personal possession of marijuana. Washington D.C. has also legalized possession of marijuana, but in all previous cases voters have given cannabis their approval rather than the legislature taking the initiative.  

Gov. Scott vetoed a similar bill last spring, saying that the state needed more time to study the issue, particularly regarding driver impairment from marijuana. However, he told Vermont Public Radio that he would sign the bill into law this time. 

"I made that commitment," he said. "It's a libertarian approach and that was something that I was comfortable doing.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears said that he doesn’t think the bill will have a big impact on the number of Vermonters using marijuana. 

“If the Rand Corporation is anywhere near correct, 80,000 Vermonters are using it now and maybe a few people who will try it and either not like it or continue to use it, but I don't think it's gonna result in a huge influx,” he said.

The law, if signed by the governor, is expected to take effect on July 1.

The forthcoming law will legalize personal possession of marijuana but will not create a marketplace to tax the legal sale of cannabis. The governor has created a commission to study how the state can implement legalized marijuana sales, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said he hopes that the state will establish a retail market for legal marijuana soon.

"The legislative system is catching up with the public," said Zuckerman. "And people are getting over the hurdle of this is an absolute evil that doesn't exist and somehow by supporting this we're bringing it into existence, and more a recognition of the reality that's already out there in Vermont and that we now have to move forward with a complete conversation.”

Scott has said that he won’t support an effort to legalize sales of marijuana until there is a reliable road-side test that can measure impairment due to drugs. 

"It's not just impairment due to alcohol or not just to marijuana, but it's prescription drugs and heroin and a combination of all, and we have to come up with a way to determine impairment on our highways," he said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.