Vermonters have two chances to legalize certain amounts of marijuana possession and cultivation, with two bills headed to state legislators this session.
The first bill, Senate Bill 48, was introduced last month. If passed, it would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and up. People caught with under two ounces would face a civil fine of no more than $100. People found with more than an ounce would face up to six months in jail and up to $500 in fines. Paraphernalia would also be decriminalized. People possessing under an ounce can not be denied any rights or privileges at the state level, including student financial aid, unemployment or occupational licenses. The bill has the support of nine different legislators.
The second, House Bill 200, was introduced last Tuesday. If passed, it would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana as well as cultivation of up to nine cannabis plants (with only two in flowering at any given time). It would also decriminalize paraphernalia possession. At most, Vermonters would face a civil penalty of a $100 fine. The bill also makes clear that it does not allow for people to drive under the influence of cannabis.
Anyone under 21 caught with cannabis would be fined and punished identically to how alcohol violations are handled currently. Offenders would also be subject to community service and substance abuse classes. The bill is already seeing major support from both sides of the aisle, with 28 different Vermont legislators signing on as co-sponsors. If passed, the law would go into effect on July 1.
Currently, Vermont law for possession of less than two ounces is a misdemeanor with up to $500 in fines and six months in jail. Subsequent offenses can net you two years in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. Cultivation of between three and ten plants is a felony, with up to three years in jail and $100,000 in fines. Paraphernalia possession is a misdemeanor with $1,000 in fines and up to a year in jail.
Vermont currently has medical marijuana laws on the books allowing patients up to two ounces of dried cannabis. Patients can also grow up to three plants in their home, provided that only one is in flower at any given time. Caregivers are also allowed, but can only care for one patient each. An amendment signed into law in June 2011 allows for four medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the state and serve up to 1,000 patients each.