Vermont became the 17th state in the nation today to eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law legislation decriminalizing possession by an adult of one ounce or less of the drug. The signing took place at the Statewide Criminal & Juvenile Justice Training in Essex Junction.
"This change just makes common sense. 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," Gov. Shumlin said. He noted that earlier this week he signed a package of legislation designed to reduce opiate abuse, and has called for a focused effort by law enforcement, medical and mental health communities to determine a comprehensive "next step' in that fight.
The law signed today replaces criminal penalties with a civil fine for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. In addition, it treats possession of such amounts of marijuana by people under age 21 the same as underage possession of alcohol, including referral to court diversion for a first offense, potential civil penalties and/or license suspension, and criminal penalties for a third violation. Half of the funds collected under this law will go to the Vermont Drug Task Force, which focuses efforts on targeting mid- to high- level drug dealers and combating the use of heroin in Vermont.
Previously under Vermont law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana was punishable by a six- 24-month jail term. Vermont legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2004.
The Governor was joined at the bill signing by legislative leaders and advocates who had worked for passage of the legislation.