Proposal supported by state’s top law enforcement officials would replace criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket
The Vermont House of Representatives gave final approval Tuesday to a bill, 92-49, that would decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana. It will now move to the Senate for consideration.
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor of the proposal at House and Senate committee hearings, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has also expressed support.
“We hope members of the Senate will agree with their colleagues in the House and our state’s top law enforcement officials that it is time for a more sensible approach to marijuana policy in Vermont,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “There is no need to subject people to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
H. 200, introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tripartisan group of 38 co-sponsors, would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. Those under age 21 would be required to undergo substance abuse screening.
Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.
Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replacing them with a civil fine, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in February 2012.
“Most Vermont voters agree that simple marijuana possession should no longer warrant harsh criminal penalties,” Simon said. “If public safety is the goal, law enforcement officials’ focus should be on violent crimes and not on adults possessing small amounts of a safer product than alcohol.”