Vermont Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Passes Final Senate Vote

Vermont Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Passes Final Senate Vote

Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older will result in up to a $300 as of July 1, 2013

MONTPELIER, VT – A bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana passed a third, and final, reading in the Vermont Senate on Wednesday.  The bill, which as previously passed in the House, will be sent to the House of Representatives to sign off on amendments made by the Senate before sending it to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.

The bill, House Bill 200introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tripartisan group of 38 co-sponsors, will 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 both testified in favor of the bill in April, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has also expressed support for decriminalizing marijuana possession in the state.

On Tuesday, Senators voted 24 to 6 in favor of sending the bill to a third, and final, reading.  Then on Wednesday, the Senate voted to approve the bill, as amended.

We are pleased to see the Senate has joined their colleagues in the House and given their initial approval to this important legislation,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is exceptionally strong support for this proposal among the voters and the legislature has really stepped up and delivered.

“The public’s attitude toward marijuana is changing in Vermont and around the nation,” Simon said. “Most people agree that simply possessing a substance less harmful than alcohol should not warrant potentially life-altering criminal penalties.”

In the bill’s present form, the penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 years of age or older will face a civil infraction with a fine of up to $300. This civil infraction will result in no arrest, jail time, or criminal record.

Those under 21 years of age who are found in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana will be referred to the Court Diversion Program for the “purpose of enrollment in the Youth Substance Abuse Safety Program.” If the program is not completed by the minor, they risk losing their drivers licence for 90 days and face a $300 fine for the first or second offense. Subsequent offenses will result in a fine up to $1,000.

Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, as well as cultivation or sale of any amount, remain criminal offenses.

House members must now approve the Senate’s changes to the bill, which will then go to Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has publicly expressed support for liberalizing the state’s marijuana possession penalties.

If signed into law, the measure will take effect on July 1, 2013.

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.

Vermont’s proposed law is similar to existing decriminalization laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.

Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.

Three states — Alaska, Colorado, and Washington — impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.