Vermont passes bill to decriminalize up to ounce of pot possessionBy PETER HIRSCHFELD
Vermont Press Bureau | May 14,2013MONTPELIER — More than a decade after lawmakers here began pushing for the reform of cannabis laws, the Vermont Legislature has given final approval to a bill that will decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
The House on Monday cast the final vote for a decriminalization bill that now heads to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin. The second-term Democrat championed the measure in both his election campaigns, and lauded the Legislature’s work this year.
“I applaud the Legislature’s action to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Vermonters support sensible drug policies,” Shumlin said in a written statement.
While Vermonters aren’t customarily sentenced to long jail terms for small-time marijuana offenses, the crime does sometimes result in incarceration.
According to statistics provided by the Vermont Center for Justice Research, of the 5,716 people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession between 2008 and 2012, 472 were sentenced to jail time. Nearly 400 landed on probation, and 1,248 had to pay a fine. The data do not distinguish between cases that were standalone offenses and those that were part of a package of charges.
Shumlin said the reforms will allow “our courts and law enforcement to focus their limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive opiates such as heroin and prescription drugs that are tearing apart families and communities.”
First-time misdemeanor possession offenses currently carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail. The new law would replace criminal sanctions with a $300 fine; the legislation also decriminalizes possession of up to five grams of hashish.
Decriminalization proponents said the effects of misdemeanor possession conviction can have severe consequences even in instances when the punishment is only a small fine. Younger offenders have found themselves unable to qualify for federal student loans and other government benefits as a result of their criminal record.
Sen. David Zuckerman, a Chittenden County Progressive who first introduced decriminalization legislation as a House representative several years ago, said the passage of the new law is a case of politicians finally catching up with the will of their constituents.
“I think after the ‘just say no’ era of Ronald Reagan, politicians were afraid to talk about drugs in a sane, rational way,” Zuckerman said Monday.
He said the passage of medical marijuana laws in 2004 allowed many elected officials here to feel more comfortable considering decriminalization.
“When they say there wasn’t any negative reaction to that vote,” Zuckerman said, “they opened up to the possibility of talking about marijuana reform in a rational way.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgMORE IN Vermont NewsMONTPELIER — As longtime chief of staff, Lola Pierotti Aiken had reason to manage the U.S. Full Story
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- TOMORROW'S HEADLINES TODAY: No money this year for western rail project, Lola Aiken memorialized in Montpelier, Supreme Court Castleton murder suspect will remain in jail, Shaftbury man fires shots from his AK-47 into neighbor's home.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: On this day in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev arrives in U.S. for historic 13-day visit; in 1987, Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze sign nuclear reduction agreement.
- TOMORROW'S HEADLINES TODAY: City celebrates completion of its newest mural, on West Street opposite the post office, more than $2 million in federal grants will bolster Vermont's health centers, Patrick McArdle reports on pending sale of Vermont papers.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: Henry Hudson sails up the Hudson River as far as present-day Albany, Leo Szilard has epiphany waiting for the light to change, 3 kids report a West Virginia close encounter in 1952.
- TOMORROW'S HEADLINES TODAY: Who will run for mayor in Rutland next year? Has Bennington overcome its fear of twerking? Documentary 'Hungry Heart' packs the Paramount, and the city's Creek Path scores another million-plus dollars.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: The 1509 'Lesser Judgment' earthquake on this day at Constantinople kills 13,000 and destroys the city; in 1801, on this day, Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans is born.