- Picture taken March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Vermont’s legislature approved a bill to legalize the possession of one ounce of marijuana on Wednesday, sending the bill to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk to either veto or sign into law.
The Vermont House approved bill S.22 79 to 66 on Wednesday afternoon, reports The Burlington Free Press.
The bill will eliminate penalties for individuals possessing one ounce of marijuana or less, and will allow the possession of up to two mature plants by July 2018.
The bill also creates a nine-person commission to study the best way to tax and regulate marijuana in the future.
Vermont could become the first state to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature – rather than through a voter initiative – provided Scott allows it to become law.
Vermont doesn’t afford its citizens voter initiative or referendum rights. States like Colorado, California, and Washington all legalized marijuana through voter-driven referendums.
Scott, a first-term Republican, has expressed what he deems are public safety concerns with marijuana legalization, specifically residents driving under the influence of marijuana.
“It’s no secret that I don’t believe this a priority for Vermont,” Scott told Vermont Public Radio.
“I believe that what we should be doing is trying to find ways to protect those on our highways, to 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,” Scott said. He added that he believes marijuana legalization is “inevitable.”
Scott said he will “review” the bill passed by the House and wouldn’t commit to vetoing the legislation.
The bill on Scott’s desk is considered a compromise from the version passed by Vermont’s Senate, which proposed to create a commercial market for marijuana in Vermont.
“Vermont lawmakers made history today,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project told Business Insider in an email. “The Legislature has taken a crucial step toward ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. There is no rational reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol.”
Anti-legalization groups, however, weren’t pleased with the bill’s passage.
“We are disappointed by today’s vote in Vermont, but our fight is far from over,” Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a statement.
Sabet’s chief concern with the bill is the commercialization of marijuana, which he says is a “new, addictive industry” funded by “Big Tobacco.” The details of Vermont’s marijuana regulation structure are still to be determined by the commission, however.
“We will continue to give a voice to parents, and public health and safety experts to encourage Governor Scott to choose people over profit and veto this harmful legislation,” Sabet added.
Provided the bill passes, Vermont will be the third state in the northeast to pass marijuana legalization. Maine and Massachusetts both passed legalization measures in November.