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Vermont: The First State to Legalize Marijuana Through Legislation


Vermont made national news and was the subject of late-night talk show jokes on Jan. 10 when the state Senate approved a bill to legalize adult use of marijuana. While the measure would not allow legal sales, the Green Mountain State was poised to make history as the first in the nation to legalize marijuana by legislation instead of popular vote.

Updates: Vermont became the ninth state in the country to allow recreational marijuana when Republican Gov. Phil Scott privately signed the bill, albeit «with mixed emotions,» on Jan. 22. The law went into effect July 1.

The legislation lets adults over 21 possess up to one ounce of marijuana or five grams of hash, and cultivate up to two mature and four immature plants at home. It would remain illegal to smoke pot in a public place or while driving.

However, the bill doesn’t permit commercial sales. Still, entrepreneurs there think a regulated market is inevitable. In fact, Gov. Scott’s Marijuana Advisory Commission has been studying cannabis sales and issued a report on Jan. 16 that only recommended to keep looking into the matter.

While the governor has said he’s not “philosophically opposed” to legalization (thanks to a libertarian streak), he’s expressed skepticism about a fully legal market. “The tax-and-regulate, so-called Tobacco 2.0, is concerning to me,” he told the Burlington weekly Seven Days. “We have to make sure that we can determine a level of prevention on our highways, make sure there’s prevention in our schools, and deal with edibles, as well as the taxing and regulatory process. It’s a big step from here.”

Last year, Scott vetoed a different version of the bill, which disappointed advocates.

Vermont Follows Washington, D.C.’s Lead

All eight states that legalized marijuana via ballot initiatives have or will soon have regulated sales and cultivation up and running. Only Washington D.C., which legalized adult use in 2014, doesn’t have a regulated market. While selling cannabis products is technically not permitted in D.C., a thriving “gift economy” has emerged thanks to a loophole: A store can sell a T-shirt for $45, and give some cannabis as a “gift” with the purchase.

The Vermont legalization bill follows the same quantity levels as the decrim bill passed in 2013 and signed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, which reduced penalties for possession for less than one ounce of pot and five grams of hash to a violation, and did not allow home-growing.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire…

A similar no-sales legalization bill passed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Jan. 9. It returned the measure to the Ways and Means Committee. The Granite State’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said he opposes legalization and would not sign the bill if it came to his desk.

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