MONTPELLIER – A tripartisan group of 39 co-sponsors, led by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington), has introduced a bill to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replace them with a civil citation and a fine, similar to a parking ticket.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has expressed support for decriminalization and is expected to sign one of these bills into law if approved by the legislature.
If passed, H.200 would make possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, two mature plants, and seven immature plants, punishable by a citation and a fine of up to $100 without jail time.
A similar bill, S.48, was introduced in the Senate last week by Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and a tripartisan team of eight co-sponsors. S.48 would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a fine of up to $100.
Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.
Under both proposed bills, possession of marijuana by persons under 21 years of age would be subject to the same penalties as underage possession of alcohol.
There is strong public support for such legislation, according to a survey of Vermont voters conducted by Public Policy Polling last February. It found nearly two-thirds (63%) of voters support “a change in the law to provide for a fine of up to $150 without jail time for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use.”
“Adults should not be branded as criminals simply for possessing a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. “Vermont voters want their state to adopt a more sensible approach to marijuana, and that is what H.200 and S.48 propose.”
There are currently 16 other states that have removed criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession. Two of those states, Colorado and Washington, have removed all penalties for adult possession and are establishing systems in which marijuana production and sales will be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.