Vermont became the ninth state in the U.S. to officially legalize recreational cannabis when Governor Phil Scott privately signed the cannabis bill into law on Monday. This also means that Vermont is the first state to legalize cannabis through legislative process instead of a ballot vote by residents.
This is because, unlike the other eight cannabis-legal states, Vermont law does not include any mechanism allowing for a citizen referendum.
What are the provisions of the state’s cannabis law?
The cannabis legalization law will allow adults over 21 years old to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to four immature cannabis plants and two mature ones.
The legislation, however, does not say anything about the creation of a state market for recreational cannabis. This means that under the new law, commercial cannabis sales won’t be allowed.
Additionally, the final version of the bill, called House Bill 511, clarified the civil penalties that offenders will face for the sale of cannabis to persons under 21 years old.
Vermont’s cannabis law goes into effect on July 1.
Mixed emotions for Gov. Scott
Gov. Scott said in a statement to the General Assembly that he signed House Bill 511 with “mixed emotions.” According to him, he personally believes that what adults do privately behind closed doors is their own choice, so long as what they are doing does not adversely affect the other people’s health and safety – especially those of children.
Scott said last week that he will not hold a bill signing ceremony because there are still people do not feel that legalizing cannabis is a momentous occasion.
The Republican governor created a commission via executive order that will conduct a research on how a tax-and-regulate system is going to work out for the state and whether this is the right move for them. It will also look into youth drug education and highway safety.
Scott’s commission includes only two legislators (no patients, no caregivers, and no cannabis industry folk.) Some state officials worry that this commission will be biased against a tax-and-regulate system.
Scott said that there ought to be a comprehensive, workable plan before he would consider implementing a commercial tax-and-regulate system for the state’s recreational cannabis market. He told the General Assembly that until they have a plan to address cannabis legalization-related concerns, he will veto additional efforts along these lines.
The commission’s final report is expected to be delivered to lawmakers by the end of 2018. This report will guide them on any future legislation relating to the establishment of a cannabis market.
Under Vermont’s two-step legalization process, it could take some time before the state would see its first legal cannabis.
Vermont’s road to legalization
Over the past few years, Vermont lawmakers had worked to address cannabis reform through legislation. The state had legalized cannabis for medical purposes since 2004.
It can be recalled that last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a proposal to allow the possession and cultivation of adult-use cannabis. However, Scott vetoed this proposal, citing practical concerns. One good thing about it, though, is that he did lay out and identify the changes that he wanted legislators to make to the proposal for it to win his support.
Lawmakers quickly acted on Scott’s requested changes and revised their proposed bill, this time emphasizing the protection of children and enhancing highway safety. The only problem was that they weren’t able to overcome procedural hurdles in time and get the revisions done during a special session in the summer.
Everything ended well, though, when state lawmakers approved the revised bill earlier this month, just a few days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to rescind a policy established under the administration of Former President Barack Obama allowing states to freely implement their own cannabis laws with no interference from the federal government.