On January 22, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through its state legislature. H. 511 was signed into law by conservative governor Phil Scott (R) after being passed by the Green Mountain State’s Democratic-controlled legislature. The law legalizes possession of one ounce of marijuana and two mature plants for individuals over the age of 21. The text of the law does not provide an avenue for the legal sale of recreational marijuana or the collection of any new tax revenue.
The Vermont Senate and House had previously passed the bill in 2017 as S. 22, but it was vetoed by the governor in May due to his concerns over the text’s original failure to “fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.”
However, the Democratic legislature and Republican governor did not allow their initial failure in passing the legislation to stymie further attempts at reform. The new bill strengthens penalties for those who sell or gift marijuana to those under 21, as well as more clearly regulating marijuana consumption and possession with regard to driving. Neither side was able to ultimately achieve everything it wanted, as Democrats still lack the legalization of commercial marijuana. The governor also did not achieve his ideal legislation, saying “Today, with mixed emotions I have signed H. 511” in his official press release.
While the bill does not legalize the sale of marijuana, the governor has created a task-force to explore how to implement a commercial market, as well as strengthening educational and drug abuse prevention resources.