Vermont Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #787)
Drug War Issues

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed into law Thursday a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts o marijuana. That makes Vermont the 17th state to decriminalize, including all of its neighboring New England states except New Hampshire.

[image:1 align:left]Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) and passed with tri-partisan support, House Bill 200 removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. People under 21 will be required to undergo substance abuse screening. Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

"This change just makes common sense," Shumlin said as he signed the bill. "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."

Earlier this week, Shumlin signed a package of bills aimed at reducing problems associated with opiate use, including measures designed to reduce opiate overdose deaths.

"We applaud Gov. Shumlin, the state's top law enforcement officials, and the legislature for their leadership and support of this important legislation," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill. "Decriminalizing marijuana possession will allow law enforcement officials to spend more time and attention addressing serious crimes and prevent people from being branded as criminals just for using a substance that most Americans agree should be legal."

But decriminalization is only a half-measure, Simon said.

"Removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession slows the bleeding, but it will not stop until marijuana prohibition is replaced with a more sensible policy," he explained. "Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time for the state to start exploring policies that treat it that way."

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KevinFlowers (not verified)

I really don't understand why anybody is in jail for possession of marijuana.
Sat, 06/08/2013 - 12:59am Permalink
Legalize Heroin (not verified)

"This change just makes common sense," Shumlin said as he signed the bill. "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."
No, Governor, shifting drug war priorities from cannabis to opiates and stimulants is not how we should focus our limited resources. If legalizing cannabis is just going to mean greater crackdowns on other drugs this is not progress. If consuming cannabis while doing no harm to anyone else should not be a crime, why is it appropriate for the users of other drugs? 
Just because a majority of Americans feel cannabis should be legal does not mean the prohibition of other drugs is either constitutional or moral. Rights do not work by majority rule, the Declaration of Independence states that we have a right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". We may pursue happiness including through pharmacological means right up to the point that it infringes on the rights of others. Some people can only experience happiness through the use of certain drugs including opiates and stimulants. 
I see Shumlin also passed some Naloxone access and "Good Samaritan" measures. Important measures to be sure, but only necessary because prohibition makes taking heroin and prescription opioids a thousand times more dangerous than opiate consumption would be under legalization. Instead of heroin we would have opium. For the synthetic side, the manufacturers of the fentanyl analog Sufentanil claim it has a therapeutic index around 25,000, if true we have a synthetic opioid that is next to impossible to OD on. If we approached opiate use in a rational manner while embracing harm reduction, we could vastly reduce opioid ODs. But this is impossible under prohibition, so we chip around the edges implementing programs that try to minimize the harms produced by the real problem: the prohibition of certain drugs.
Sun, 06/09/2013 - 12:17am Permalink
borden (not verified)

In reply to by Legalize Heroin (not verified)

Note that Shumlin did not say "crack down" on the other drugs. He talked about reducing abuse and addiction to them. One can make efforts to reduce abuse and addiction through public health and educational measures, for example, without increasing punishments. I can't say for sure what Shumlin meant, but I suspect he is more on that wavelength.

Mon, 06/10/2013 - 4:38pm Permalink
Legalize Heroin (not verified)

In reply to by borden (not verified)

It's true Gov. Shumlin did not elaborate on how he planned to reduce "abuse" (non-medical use) and addiction. I suppose my mind went there because I've heard the line "Free the herb but lock up all the junkies" so many times by people who profess to be supporters of drug reform. Some people seem to think the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on marijuana. Sometimes I wish marijuana would just be legalized so we can get on to discussing reform of our other drug laws. 

I don't live in Vermont or know much about Shumlin's politics. The fact that he signed the naloxone access and "Good Samaritan" measures are good signs. It would be nice to see some Governors come out in support of across the board decriminalization. 

However consider the following, suppose because of this decrim measure cops stop going after pot smokers. But the police have the same incentives, overtime, quotas, ect. Now they know they can't bust the pot smokers anymore, so they focus on the other drug users more. Wouldn't this shift the focus to the users of other drugs regardless of what plans the Governor has to specifically reduce "abuse" and addiction? In other words the perverse incentives are built into the system to perpetuate the war on drugs, without marijuana as a target wouldn't there be increased pressure on other non-cannabis drugs regardless of the Governor's intentions? Unless Shumlin is going to shift significant resources away from law enforcement to treatment, education and prevention, I just don't see police saying, "well we can't bust pot smokers anymore, so we'll just go back to real police work (solving victim crimes like robbery, rape, murder, ect)" or will they just shift resources currently directed toward marijuana investigations to other drugs? We're only talking decrim here so the effect won't likely de dramatic (though certainly important for those who would otherwise go to jail) but down the line to full legalization I wonder if this won't be the case. 

Wed, 06/12/2013 - 1:54am Permalink
SaveKratom1 (not verified)

Thank you. We need all the support we can get to get the kratom ban lifted before it even takes place.

Tue, 06/11/2013 - 2:53am Permalink

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