98-44 Roll Call Vote Sends HB 200 to Third and Final Reading
MONTPELIER, VT – The Vermont House of Representatives approved a bill 98-44 Friday that would decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana. The bill needed only 72 votes to pass the roll call vote.
The bill is scheduled for another House vote next week before moving forward to the Senate. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor of the bill, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has also expressed support for such a proposal.
“Vermont is another step closer to adopting a more sensible approach to marijuana policy,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The support demonstrated by members of the House reflects that of the state’s top law enforcement officials and the voters.”
House Bill 200, introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tripartisan group of 38 co-sponsors, would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. Those under age 21 would be required to undergo substance abuse screening.
The bill originally called for the decriminalization of possession up to two ounces of marijuana, but was amended in committee to limit the decriminalized amount to one ounce, matching a similar bill, SB 48, currently advancing in the Senate.
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.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replacing them with a civil fine, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in February 2012.
“A majority of Vermont voters agree that nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” Simon said. “I think we can all agree that addressing violent and otherwise serious crimes is a better use of law enforcement officials’ time and resources than arresting and prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana.”
The bill is opposed primarily by law enforcement statewide, who descended upon the state house Wednesday in protest of marijuana decriminalization in Vermont.
Steve McQueen, chief of the Winooski Police Department and president of the Vermont Association of Police Chiefs, and Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby, president of the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association testified against decriminalizing marijuana.
Both officers testified that while marijuana users rarely see the inside of a jail cell, the decriminalization of marijuana would send the wrong message to the state’s youth. McQueen added that the “hammer” of prosecution gives his officers the leverage they need to get offenders, often younger ones, on the “straight and narrow.”