Despite unconstitutional federal statutes and United Nations agreements purporting to override state authority by criminalizing marijuana, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed tri-partisan legislation decriminalizing possession of cannabis in the state. The new law, which was supported by top law-enforcement officials and almost two-thirds of voters, makes Vermont the 17th state to defy the UN and the U.S. government by ending criminal penalties imposed on consumers of the controversial plant.
Known as H. 200, the new marijuana law falls short of the full-legalization initiatives recently approved by voters in Colorado and Washington State that nullified federal and UN prohibition regimes surrounding the substance. Nonetheless, supporters of the effort in Vermont from across the political spectrum — from lawmen, UN opponents, and conservative-leaning proponents of state nullification of unconstitutional federal statutes to liberal-oriented activists focused on marijuana and racism — celebrated the measure as a major victory.
With the new law, instead of facing criminal sanctions, which critics say waste taxpayer money and police resources, individuals who possess up to one ounce of the plant material will be hit with a $200 civil fine akin to a traffic ticket. Anyone under age 21, meanwhile, would be forced to undergo substance abuse screening similar to how underage drinking is treated in Vermont.
Under previous state laws, possession of marijuana was considered a misdemeanor crime, with punishment potentially including up to six months in jail for a first offense and two years for a second. However, the popular new law, originally introduced by “Vermont Progressive Party” state Rep. Christopher Pearson and supported by a tri-partisan alliance of more than three dozen co-sponsors, will change all of that starting on July 1.
The measure sailed through the state Senate on May 7 by a vote of 24 to six after having been approved overwhelmingly in the state House of Representatives in April, with 98 in favor versus 44 opposed. In addition to strong support from lawmakers and the public, top state officials backed the new law as well. Both Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, for example, testified in favor of the bill. Polls from early last year showed that around 63 percent of voters support the effort, too.
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