On Monday, Vermont’s Republican governor Phil Scott reluctantly signed House Bill 511, which allows state residents to possess and consume cannabis. In May 2017, he vetoed an earlier bill, citing safety concerns. The governor is quoted as having “mixed emotions” about signing the new bill.
The new law goes into effect on July 1st. Adults over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to two mature and four immature plants. The signed bill makes Vermont the 9th state in the U.S. to legalize cannabis and the first to authorize its recreational use through an act of a state legislature rather than as a ballot initiative.
Notably, the bill does not legalize the sale of cannabis. Scott indicated that a state commission is going to take time to study the impact of retail trade in the state first. The commission will also focus on developing public education programs and strategies to ensure highway safety and prevent drug abuse. The governor has promised to veto any sales bill that does not address his concerns.
Vermont Lieutenant Gov. David Zuckerman has expressed concern that Scott is loading his commission with people philosophically opposed to the cannabis trade and that it will take a very long time before it is legally available for sale in the state. Zuckerman is a proponent of a tax-and-regulate model for recreational cannabis sales. Others have noted that recreational marijuana, though illegal, is already widely available (and widely used) throughout Vermont. It’s possible that the biggest impact of the state’s reluctance to legalize its sale is lost tax revenue rather than curbed abuse or reduced highway deaths.
However, medical cannabis has been legal in Vermont for over a decade; the state has allowed medical use of the plant since 2004. Vermont’s law established the Cannabis Therapeutic Research Program, which is administered by the Commissioner of Health. Currently, there are four registered medical dispensaries in the state. Vermont’s criteria for which patients potentially qualify for cannabis use are similar to those of other states that have legalized medicinal use. Some patients who might benefit from cannabis but whose conditions were not deemed medically serious enough under the 2004 law will be able to legally use the plant.
Thirty other states have also legalized medical marijuana, as have Guam, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.