MONTPELIER, VT – A bill that would decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana, having already passed in the House, has been received by the Senate and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate.
The Vermont House of Representatives gave final approval earlier this week by a 92-49 vote to House Bill 200, introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tri-partisan group of 38 co-sponsors in February.
The bill 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.
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.
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor of the proposal at House committee hearings, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has also expressed support.
“We hope members of the Senate will agree with their colleagues in the House and our state’s top law enforcement officials that it is time for a more sensible approach to marijuana policy in Vermont,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is no need to subject people to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
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.
“Most Vermont voters agree that simple marijuana possession should no longer warrant harsh criminal penalties,” Simon said. “If public safety is the goal, law enforcement officials’ focus should be on violent crimes and not on adults possessing small amounts of a safer product than alcohol.”