Vermont draws one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana

Weed could be decriminalized by 2018

On Thursday, the Vermont state Senate gave final approval to a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, beginning in 2018. If it reaches the governor’s desk, Vermont will be the first state in the nation to legalize the drug without a referendum.

The bill cleared the regulatory hurdle when Sen. Becca Balint, a Democrat, who had originally opposed the measure, changed her vote.

The Senate rejected amendments to push off decriminalization until 2019, but opted to place warnings on marijuana packaging similar to those on cigarette boxes.

Under the bill, adults age 21 and older would be allowed to purchase up to half an ounce, and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It would also create licenses for retailers and growers. However, it would still be illegal to grow your own marijuana, and edibles would still be prohibited. [1]

Four other states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but in those cases, the laws passed in referenda, where voters gave input on the issue and bypassed their legislatures.

Supporters of the Vermont bill say legalizing pot would put illegal drug dealers out of business and protect residents from the cocaine, heroin, and other hard drugs those same drug pushers peddle. Said Democratic Senator Dick McCormack, who voted in favor:

“The question is how many people use marijuana and don’t destroy their lives? The answer is millions. There are bad effects to using marijuana. But there are bad effects to watching too much television.” [2]

Passage of the bill would also be a boon to the state’s economy, as it would create a 25% sales tax on marijuana. The tax, combined with the licensing fees for growers and retailers, would generate as much as $20 million in new revenue.

The next stop for the bill is the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democrat, said:

“Most people believe the policy we have in place now is not working. I think the question that has to be answered is will the alternative that’s come over from the Senate address the areas where the policy isn’t working now? Whether we can fix it this year is an open question.” [3]

Some 80,000 Vermont residents regularly use recreational marijuana, a recent survey shows, most of it purchased from black market drug dealers.

Sources:

[1] WPTZ

[2] RT

[3] Times

Via Natural Society