For the first time in US history, a state has legalized recreational marijuana without a voter ballot initiative. With a stroke of his pen on Monday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed the historic legislation that allows adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and the right to grow a limited amount of plants.
House Bill 511 will not create a legal method of obtaining marijuana, but no longer will citizens be arrested for possession. Vermont now joins eight other states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington (and Washington DC) — to declare an end to cannabis prohibition.
The long-awaited signing is yet another slap in the face of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who earlier this month reversed Obama administration guidelines allowing states to implement and regulate their own laws in regard to cannabis without interference from the federal government. “Vermont is standing up to the regressive, harmful policies coming out of Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Other states and policymakers should follow suit, and keep pressing for marijuana reforms that are supported by a vast majority of the public.”
Related Story: Vermont Senate Passes Bill To Legalize Cannabis In The State
Vermont’s marijuana law will go into effect in July. Gov. Scott, a Republican, signed the bill with some reservations. “Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed H. 511,” Scott said. “I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children.” Last May, a similar bill passed the legislature, only to have Scott veto it.
Until now, all the other states legalized marijuana via voter initiatives. But Vermont, along with 25 other states, do now give this power directly to the citizens.
It remains to be seen if there will support in Vermont’s legislative bodies to pass a full retail program, allowing for legal sales. But the pressure will be on elected politicians to listen to the will of the people. A poll conducted by VPR Poll, shows that 55 percent of Vermonters support legalization. Only 32 percent are opposed. The VPR Poll shows older Vermonters – those 65 and up – are the only age group where the majority opposes legalization. More than two-thirds of 18- to 44-year-olds favor it.
“The majority of Vermonters, like the majority of the American public, desire to live in a community where responsible adults who choose to consume cannabis are no longer criminalized or stigmatized,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in a statement. “Governor Scott should be recognized for helping to provide Vermonters with a path forward at a time when many elected officials elsewhere are clinging to the failed policies of the past.”
Nationally, more than 60 percent of Americans support making marijuana legal. Three-quarters of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, believe marijuana should be regulated at the state level.
Vermont certainly won’t be the only state to legalize via the legislative process. Efforts are underway in New York, New Jersey and New Mexico to legalize cannabis through their legislature in 2018.