This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
The state Senate today voted 17-12 today to approve a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and replace it will system of taxation and regulation. The vote today was the second Senate vote this week to approve the bill, which will now go to the House for consideration.
The bill also envisions a system of tightly regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, testing, and distribution, which would include licensed retail marijuana outlets.
Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who backs the bill, has not yet responded to today's vote, but congratulated lawmakers after Wednesday's preliminary vote to approve the bill.
"I want to thank the Senate for their courage in voting to end the failed War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition," Shumlin said in a statement. "When this debate began a month and a half ago, there were many who said it had no chance of passage in either chamber. Today it passed the Senate. This is a big moment for Vermont that should give Vermonters faith that our democracy still works," he said, noting that some 80,000 Vermonters use marijuana on a monthly basis.
"The shadows of prohibition have prevented our state from taking rational steps to address marijuana use in our state," the governor continued. "This bill will allow us to address those important issues by driving out illegal drug dealers, doing a better job than we currently do of keeping marijuana out of the hands of underage kids, dealing with the drugged drivers who are already driving on our roads, addressing treatment, and educating Vermonters to the harmful effects of consuming marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes."
"Now is the time to move forward with ending the failed policy of prohibition in Vermont. I am proud of the Senate for taking the lead and I look forward to working with the House to get a bill to my desk," Shumlin added.
The Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working closely with elected officials on the bill, also pronounced itself pleased.
"We applaud the Senate for advancing this important legislation," said Matt Simon, MPP's Montpelier-based New England political director. "Like most Vermonters, most members of the Senate recognize that prohibition is a failed policy. They voted to regulate marijuana because it will make our communities safer. We are confident that House members who take an objective look at the evidence will arrive at the same conclusion as their colleagues in the Senate."
Political pressure is mounting on the House to do just that. In addition to support from the governor, and now, the Senate, but also from sitting state Attorney General William Sorrell and two of his predecessors, as well as clergy and faith leaders. And on Monday, Vermont Public Radio released poll results showing that 55% of Vermonters support the bill, with only 32% opposed.
New England is a real hotbed of marijuana reform this year, with bills also under serious consideration in Connecticut and Rhode Island and with Maine and Massachusetts poised to vote on legalization initiative in November. But it's starting to look like Vermont could be the first state in the region to make it to the finish line, and the first in 2016.