Vermont Is Poised To Legalize Marijuana Possession

A marijuana plant. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A marijuana plant. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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The Vermont state Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana, putting Vermont on course to become the first state in the country to legalize pot by an act of lawmakers rather than through a citizen referendum.

The proposal would make it legal for adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, but would not set up a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug.

The bill was approved by the House last week, and Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he would sign it.

"It's an important criminal justice reform to stand up and say the era of prohibition should end and Vermont needs a more sensible marijuana policy," Laura Subin, of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, said before the vote.

The bill would allow adults over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in each dwelling unit, no matter how many people live there.

The Senate approved the legislation on a voice vote. Those who voted against it didn't ask for a roll call. It would take effect July 1.

Last spring, the Legislature passed a similar bill, but Scott vetoed it because the Republican thought it didn't do enough to protect children from marijuana and enhance highway safety. Lawmakers changed the proposal to address the governor's concerns, but there was not enough time to pass it during a short veto session in June.

While the bill does not contain a mechanism to tax and regulate marijuana, as some states do, lawmakers who favor legalization hope the bill will prompt the Legislature to do that later.

"I hope this step leads us to tax and regulate," said Sen. Richard Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.