Vermont May Legalize Recreational Cannabis

By Jason Liu, second-year stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton School of Law. 

Image used under the Creative Commons license.

Vermont, home state of presidential Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, currently has a senate bill that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use and create a framework for retail sales. Senate Bill 241 or S.241, recently passed the Committee on Judiciary with a favorable report, and is currently referred to the Committee on Finance.

On Jan. 5, 2016 Sen. Jeanette K. White (D-Windham) and Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) sponsored S.241. The bill proposes that persons 21 and older may legally possess a maximum of one ounce of marijuana. Possessing more than one once would continue to be a criminal violation. The findings state:

Vermont seeks to take a new comprehensive approach to marijuana use and abuse that incorporates prevention, education, regulation, treatment, and law enforcement which results in a net reduction in public harm and an overall improvement in public safety.

Similar to states such as Washington and Colorado, S.241 also sets a framework to license and regulate marijuana retail stores. Following the enforcement priorities of the Cole Memo, S.241 aims to prevent:

  • Keeping marijuana and other drugs out of the hands of youth;
  • Creating a regulated marijuana market that shifts demand away from the illegal market and the inherent public health and safety risks associated with the illegal market;
  • Using revenue from commercial marijuana sales to expand drug prevention and treatment programs;
  • Strengthening law enforcement’s capacity to improve the response to impaired drivers under the influence of marijuana or other drugs; and
  • Prohibiting the commercial production and sale of marijuana concentrates and edible marijuana products until other states that are currently permitting such products successfully develop consumer protections that are shown to prevent access by youth and potential misuse by adults.

Unlike other states, S.241 will be through the state legislature instead of a ballot initiative process. Gov. Peter Shumlin has favorably supported S.241 in stating, “I believe this legislation is a huge improvement on the failed war on drugs.”

While S.241 is still subject to change, the bill represents a change in attitude in the nation towards recreational cannabis. If S.241 passes, Vermont will join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska in legalized recreational cannabis. The CLPP Blog will continue to keep track and update on any changes in S.241.

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