A group of nine Vermont state senators last week introduced a bill that would reduce the penalty for adults over 21 possessing an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil charge.
“Regulating and taxing marijuana would benefit Vermont’s health department,” said state Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden), reports Marissa Beinhauer of the Vermont Cynic. “The tax money would be channeled to help, treat and support drug addicts.”
The money would go toward substance abusers with physical addictions that are not seen in marijuana users, but rather with users of harder drugs like heroin or cocaine, Sen. Zuckerman said.
“We would try to utilize the resources for withdrawal from more addictive and harmful drugs to better cope and solve societal problems that arise from their usage,” he said.
“We have functional members of society who are being criminalized for their usage of marijuana,” Zuckerman said. “The resources that we put into criminalizing these people are comparably less effective than the resources we could be getting out of marijuana’s taxation and legalization.”
Individuals under 21 would face the same penalties as for underage possession of alcohol, reports Andrew Stein at VT Digger.
Fines would be capped at $100 per incident; fifth-time offenders would face a maximum charge of $500.
The revenue generated by the proposed fines would be split evenly — after a $12.50 “administrative charge” per incident — between money for cops on the state’s drug task force, and a court “drug awareness and safety” program for teens.
Governor Pete Shumlin called on the Legislature, before the session began, to approve a marijuana decriminalization bill. House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville), who in the past has opposed such measures, said he “will not stand in the way” this time.
Leah Marvin-Riley, assistant to Speaker Smith, said Smith wants to gather more information from the Commissioner of Public Safety before deciding on his exact stance on marijuana decrim.
“He might let anything happen right now regarding decriminalization but we don’t know what will happen,” Marvin-Riley said, setting a new standard for murky non-statements to the press. “We also need to look at Zuckerman’s actual and completed bill before we make any decision.”
If Vermont passes the decrim bill, it will join 13 other states that have already decriminalized cannabis. Washington and Colorado voters legalized marijuana for recreational use late last year.
After Oregon became the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973, Ohio, Alaska and Wisconsin quickly followed suit, with California and eight other states — including even Mississippi — following suit.
Sponsors of the Vermont bill are Sen. Tim Ashe (D-Chittenden); Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia); Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden); Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington); Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden); Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington); Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham); and Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden).