Recreational cannabis may be legal in Vermont as soon as next month, state legislators believe. The legalization bill "will be up for a vote in early January," state House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio last week. "I expect that it likely will pass in early January." If this bill gets signed into law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize via an act of legislation. Every other state that has legalized pot has done so via a ballot measure approved by a majority of voters.
Legalization in Vermont seemed like a done deal earlier this year, after both chambers of the state's legislature successfully passed a bill that would allow adults to possess and grow cannabis. Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill, however, but told state legislators that he would sign an amended version if it addressed his concerns over impaired driving and child safety. The state Senate attempted to rush this amended version through a special veto session this summer, but the House was unable to push the bill through in the short timeframe.
The state legislature operates on a biennial basis, so the bill has a third chance at success. The bill is scheduled for debate on January 4th, the day after next year's legislative session begins. Since the Senate has already approved the bill, the only remaining hurdles are one vote from the House and the signature of Gov. Scott, both of which seem increasingly likely. Speaker Johnson told VPR that there "hasn't been a significant shift" in the level of support for the bill since earlier this year. "We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says," she explained. And last week, Gov. Scott said that he is now "comfortable" signing the legalization bill into law, according to Marijuana Moment.
Vermont's bill is quite different than other states' legalization measures in that it only legalizes noncommercial cannabis. Vermonters would be allowed to possess an ounce or less of pot, or grow a few plants at home, but the bill does not legalize retail sales of the drug. The current legislation, however, does create a commission that would study the impact of full recreational retail sales. This commission "will provide some suggestions for further action," including the possibility of allowing retail sales, Johnson said in the recent interview, as reported by Marijuana Moment. "We'll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible."