Vermont Senate Votes to Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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MONTPELIER, VT – The Vermont Senate voted 24-6 Tuesday to give initial approval to a bill that would decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana. After the Senate gives its final approval, which could happen as early as today, it will be sent to the House of Representatives to sign off on the amended bill before sending it to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.

The House of Representatives gave its initial approval to the bill on April 16, and Gov. Shumlin has expressed support for the proposal. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor of the bill.

“We are pleased to see the Senate has joined their colleagues in the House and given their initial approval to this important legislation,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is exceptionally strong support for this proposal among the voters and the legislature has really stepped up and delivered.

“The public’s attitude toward marijuana is changing in Vermont and around the nation,” Simon said. “Most people agree that simply possessing a substance less harmful than alcohol should not warrant potentially life-altering criminal penalties.”

H. 200, introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tripartisan group of 38 co-sponsors, would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. Those under age 21 would be required to undergo substance abuse screening.

Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replacing them with a civil fine, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in February 2012.