Proposal backed by tripartisan group of legislators and state's top law enforcement officials will replace criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket
ESSEX JUNCTION – Gov. Peter Shumlin will sign a bill into law today at 1 p.m. ET that will decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana in Vermont, making it the 17th state in the nation to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. The signing will take place during the governor’s remarks at the Statewide Criminal & Juvenile Justice Training Conference.
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor of the bill, which was approved in the Senate (24-6) on May 7 and in the House (98-44) on April 12. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Vermont voters support such a proposal, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in February 2012.
“We applaud Gov. Shumlin, the state’s top law enforcement officials, and the legislature for their leadership and support of this important legislation,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill. “Decriminalizing marijuana possession will allow law enforcement officials to spend more time and attention addressing serious crimes and prevent people from being branded as criminals just for using a substance that most Americans agree should be legal.
“Removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession slows the bleeding, but it will not stop until marijuana prohibition is replaced with a more sensible policy,” Simon said. “Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time for the state to start exploring policies that treat it that way.”
H. 200, introduced 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 will 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.
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The Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana-policy-reform organization, has been responsible for changing most state-level marijuana laws since 2000. For more information, visit http://www.marijuanapolicy.org.