Update 4/17/13:Legislators in Vermont approved a third reading of a bill that would decriminalize an ounce or less yesterday, sending the measure on to the Senate for approval.
Original post: 4/16/2013 8:20 a.m.: Vermont appears to be inching their way towards decriminalization after the House voted 98-44 Friday in favor of a bill that would eliminate jail time for possession of minor amounts of marijuana.
The bill comes up for a third, and final, House vote later today according to the legislative calendar. If passed, it would move on to the state senate. It's likely that it will, too. According to a Public Policy Polling report from February, 63 percent of Vermont voters support the measure.
House Bill 200 would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it a civil offense punishable by up to $100 in fines for adults over 21. The bill would also decriminalize growing up to two mature marijuana plants and seven immature plants for those 21 or older. Marijuana paraphernalia would also be decriminalized as part of the bill.
Those under 21 caught with cannabis would face penalties similar to existing alcohol offenses, such as fines and mandatory alcohol and drug awareness programs.
"A majority of Vermont voters agree that nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol," said Matt Simon, a Marijuana Policy Project spokesman. "I think we can all agree that addressing violent and otherwise serious crimes is a better use of law enforcement officials' time and resources than arresting and prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana."
A second decriminalization bill that would have only covered up to an ounce was also introduced this session, but has failed to move out of the Senate Judiciary Committee since being sent there January 23.
Currently, possession of two ounces or less is a misdemeanior charge carrying up to $500 in fines and six months in jail. Cultivation of between three and ten plants is a felony with three years in jail and up to $100,000 in fines.