Although Vermont is recognized as one of the progressive beacons on the East Coast, the state of Bernie Sanders has lagged behind when it comes to recreational legalization. With neighboring states like Maine and Massachusetts making the recreational jump last November, Vermont lawmakers will reconsider the idea of recreational cannabis this year.
On Wednesday, a new bill was introduced to the Vermont House that would allow adults in the state to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana without penalty, eliminating the civil fine that is currently in place. The measure, entitled H. 170, would also allow residents to grow up to two mature plants and seven seedlings on their private property.
The bill co-sponsored by three members of the House Judiciary Committee leadership team, including Rep. Maxine Grad of Moretown (D), Rep. Chip Conquest of Newbury (D), and Tom Burditt of West Rutland (R). While Grad and Conquest are focused on providing residents with the ability to legally grow their own cannabis, their Republican counterpart looks at the new bill as an opportunity for taxpayers to save money.
"People clamor all the time in the state of Vermont to get nonviolent offenders out of jail. This legalization is a small part that will do that. In the long run it'll save money in the judicial system and in corrections," Burditt said.
The proposal is much more restrictive than the recreational bill that was shot down in the House last year, which would have created a retail-based system similar to the one in Colorado. But still, H. 170 offers the state a major opportunity to eliminate criminal and civil fines for marijuana possession.
Under the current law in Vermont, possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis comes with a civil fine of up to $200, while 1 to 2 ounces could potentially result in six months in jail. At the start of the year, parting Governor Peter Shumlin pardoned hundreds of Vermonters that were convicted of marijuana-related violations.
In addition to the new Vermont House bill, there’s also a separate measure in the Senate that would expand that state’s medical marijuana program. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings on the proposal next week. Although H. 170 might not present the most progressive option for recreational legalization, the bill is a small step in the right direction for Vermont nonetheless.