The Green Mountain State may soon be getting a whole lot greener. Vermont lawmakers moved to legalize recreational marijuana Wednesday, making it the first state in the nation to pass a legal weed bill through the legislative process rather than a ballot measure.
Lawmakers in the state House passed the bill by a 79-66 vote Wednesday, effectively sending it to the governor’s desk for review in light of an identical measure being approved last week in the state Senate.
If signed by Gov. Phil Scott, a first-term Republican, Vermont will legalize small amounts of marijuana possession next year and pave the way for a potential state-sanctioned retail framework.
“I’ll take a look at the bill. But I’ve been pretty clear that I’d like to see some improvements to the bill to make sure we have structures in place that provide safety to Vermonters,” Mr. Scott said Wednesday, Vermont Public Radio reported.
Regardless of the governor’s ultimate decision, Vermont nonetheless made history by becoming the first state in the country to pass a legal marijuana bill with its legislature. Though eight states and the nation’s capital have legalized marijuana since 2012, all have relied on voter referendums rather than their elected lawmakers.
“I think it reflects that Vermont elected officials are more in touch with our constituents than a lot of elected officials in other states,” Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, told the Burlington Free Press of Wednesday’s vote. “I think the public is ahead of us, but elected officials tend to be cautious when it comes to change.”
Vermont’s bill, if passed, would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and two mature cannabis plants for adults 21 and over, in addition to creating a nine-person panel tasked with studying ways for the state to tax and regulate the plant for retail sales. It’d take effect next July.
“There’s no slam dunk of any kind,” Rep. Barbara Rachelson, Burlington Democrat, told the Free Press. “It just is doing work that could be used next year or in subsequent years.”
Vermont would become the ninth state in the nation and third in New England to legalize marijuana if the bill passes, joining the ranks of Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state and D.C. So far, 29 states and D.C. have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Directly to Vermont’s north, meanwhile, Canada’s Liberal government is leading a measure of its own to legalize marijuana and establish a federal framework for recreational sales.
Marijuana is considered a Schedule I substance by the U.S. Justice Department and is prohibited under federal law. The Obama administration largely refrained from intervening in states that passed recreational or medical marijuana laws during his tenure in office, and the Trump administration has failed so far to take any action against such states.