The majestically mountainous state of Vermont is known as a progressive bastion in the northeastern part of the United States, but somehow, neighboring states like Massachusetts and Maine have been quicker to pass legislation approving recreational cannabis. However, the last few months have shown that the state is nearing some form of legalization.
Back in February, proposition H. 170 hit the floor of the Vermont House, aiming to legalize possession of marijuana. On Tuesday, this bill was approved by a count of 74 to 68, setting up legislation that aims to remove all penalties for adults holding up to one ounce of cannabis. The measure would also allow adults to grow up to two mature and four immature marijuana plants per household.
While the passing of this bill is certainly a major victory for local advocates, it still needs to make its way past the Senate. Unfortunately for Vermont tokers, state lawmakers are expected to break for the year, making it highly unlikely that H. 170 would go into effect until next year. Even if the measure manages to make its way to Gov. Phill Scott, his ambiguous positioning on recreational legalization has created uncertainty that he would sign it into law.
The proposed legislation only deals with possession and household cultivation, failing to address the creation of a regulatory system for a cannabis retail market. However, the Senate recently approved another bill that would do so back in April.
For the time being, adults caught with one ounce or less of marijuana will be subject to a civil penalty starting at $200. Democratic Rep. Chip Conquest, took the stage to support the bill on the House floor, arguing that penalizing marijuana users for possessing small amounts has not been effective.
Although H.170 managed to squeak through by a handful of votes, Republicans attempted to delay the passing by trying to have the bill passed over to the House Transportation Committee, claiming that the impact on road safety needed to be addressed.
The motion, spearheaded by Rep. Larry Cupoli and Transportation Committee Chairman Pat Brennan, was ultimately voted down. Still, the House approved an amendment that would treat marijuana in vehicles similarly to open alcohol containers. Another amendment proposed by Rep. Jean O’Sullivan attempted to create a tax-and-regulate system similar to what was passed in the Senate, but was rejected by a 42 to 99 vote.
Even though the measure was eventually approved by the House, the timing of the decision will likely leave H.170 suspended in uncertainty until the next legislative session starts in 2018. Vermont policymakers are clearly taking an extremely slow and methodical approach towards recreational legalization, putting the state’s typically progressive spirit at a temporary standstill.