Yesterday, Vermont Governor Phill Scott signed a bill into law legalizing marijuana. Vermont has become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through its legislature. Alaska, Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusettes, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington DC all legalized the recreational use of cannabis through voter initiative. Vermont also becomes the first state to legalize after Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance on federal enforcement in states with legal marijuana and issuing his own memo. The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2018.
Vermont’s bill is also unique in that it is noncommercial. It does not create a regulated market (yet) or a tax structure for cannabis sales. The bill simply makes it legal to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana. This is similar to the legal framework regarding recreational cannabis in Washington DC.
The Vermont legislature summarizes the intent of the bill as follows:
It is the intent of the General Assembly to eliminate all penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants for a person who is 21 years of age or older while retaining criminal penalties for possession, dispensing, and sale of larger amount of marijuana.
Individuals in Vermont who possess marijuana or marijuana plants in excess of these restrictions face criminal penalties. However, marijuana cultivated from homegrown plants does not count toward the one-ounce possession limit if stored indoors on the property where it was cultivated. Personal cultivation must be out of public view. Cannabis oils and tinctures may be hard to come by as extraction using butane or hexane is prohibited.
Like most cannabis-friendly states, Vermont will not permit the public consumption of marijuana. It also does not change state law regarding driving under the influence of marijuana. Cities and counties may impose additional penalties regarding the public consumption of marijuana. Landlords may prohibit the use or possession of marijuana in a lease and employers may require that their employees do not use marijuana as a condition of employment.
Providing marijuana to a minor can result in criminal penalties. The new bill also creates a civil cause of action for a “spouse, child, guardian, employer, or other person who is injured in person, property, or means of support” as a result of marijuana use by a person under the age of 21. These civil claims can be filed against anyone who provides or enables the consumption of marijuana. This means that a person who provides marijuana to a minor can be liable for the minor’s driving accidents.
Vermont may not be a large state but its decision to legalize marijuana is of national significance. Other state legislatures may follow suit and legalize marijuana through the traditional lawmaking process. New Hampshire, for example, could join Vermont as its House of Representatives recently voted to legalize marijuana. Similarily, a Republican state senator in Kentucky also recently filed a bill to legalize recreational cannabis. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, Vermont’s legalization success is a signal that states are going to continue to push forward with marijuana legalization even though Jeff Sessions has raised concerns over federal enforcement.