The Green Mountain State has become the 17th state in America to remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont signed a new law that replaces possible jail sentences with a small fine. With minors, possession of marijuana would be treated like alcohol, with a court diversion program for the first offense.
“When Vermonters do abuse marijuana, let’s make sure it’s a traffic ticket kind of fine and it doesn’t effect the rest of their lives,” Shumlin said.
“Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana,” added the governor, a Democrat. The legislation was passed with bipartisan support.
Under the legislation, residents of the Green Mountain State found possessing one ounce or less of marijuana would receive a ticket. Previously, those possessing one ounce or less were considered to be committing a misdemeanor with a possible jail sentence of six months, while those possessing two ounces were facing a maximum two-year sentence.
Those caught in possession of five grams or less of hashish would, likewise, be ticketed.
Vermont lawmakers did not go as far as Washington and Colorado, where voters decided last fall to legalize marijuana for recreational use (although it remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act). The state’s new decriminalization policy is similar to that followed in California and Oregon.
By Joel Connelly