By Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
Members of the Senate this week approved legislation to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties. On Tuesday, Senators voted 24 to 6 in favor of a House measure that amends penalties for the possession of personal use amounts of marijuana and/or marijuana paraphernalia by a person 21 years of age or older from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine) to a civil fine only --- no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record. House members had previously signed off on a slightly different version of the bill in April.
House members must sign off on the Senate's changes to the bill. It will then go to Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has publicly expressed support for liberalizing the state's marijuana possession penalties.
If signed into law, the measure will take effect on July 1, 2013.
Vermont's proposed law is similar to existing 'decriminalization' laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states --- Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio --- treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states --- Alaska, Colorado, and Washington --- impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana. (The laws in Colorado and Washington were enacted via voter initiative while Alaska's legal protections were imposed by the state Supreme Court.)