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Earlier this week, a group of Vermont democrats, independents and progressives introduced House Bill 499, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use and cultivation in the state, as well as allowing for recreational cannabis stores to open up in the Green Mountain State.
According to the language of HB 499, adults 21 and up would be able to possess up to two ounces of herb and could grow up to three plants. Anything over those limits would remain criminal offenses as defined by current laws. Adults and children under 21 caught with marijuana would face the same penalties as they would with alcohol possession. If passed, the bill would create a state-regulated marijuana industry headed up by the Department of Liquor Control. It also calls for a $50 excise tax per every ounce sold. Industrial hemp would also be regulated and licensed and Vermont farmers could grow it, despite what federal regulations say.
By our count, this is the third marijuana reform bill introduced this session. Senate Bill 48 was introduced in January and would decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana as well as paraphernalia, making possession of both a civil penalty with a fine of no more than $100. House Bill 200 was introduced in February would decriminalize up to two ounce of marijuana as well as cultivation of up to nine cannabis plants, though only two can be in flower at any time. People caught with those amounts or less would face a civil penalty of no more than $100.
All three bills have been referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
The legislature is also considering a fourth bill – House Bill 500 – which would expand the existing medical marijuana code in Vermont by increasing the number of patients private caregivers can have from three to five, increase the number of patients each dispensary is allowed to serve and would add anxiety, insomnia and post-traumatic stress – a move that is huge for veterans rights groups that have pushed for similar rulings in other medical states. Patient plant counts would be increased from HB 500 is currently in the House Committee of Human Services.
The authors of HB 499 say it will help end an “alarming racial disparity” in the state of Vermont, where blacks are arrested at four times the rate of whites for marijuana crimes. As it is now, possession of less than two ounces is a misdemeanor charge with up to six months in jail and $500 in fines for offenders. Paraphernalia possession is a misdemeanor charge with a $1,000 in fiens and up to a year in jail.