MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate approved a cannabis legalization bill Wednesday for the second time in less than a year.
Last time, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, vetoed the legislation, but this time around the governor is expected to sign it into law. That would make Vermont the ninth state plus D.C. to legalize marijuana.
Vermont would be the first state to legalize through the legislative process. All other legal states have enacted their laws through ballot initiatives, which don’t exist at the state-level in Vermont.
The bill, H.511, passed the Senate on a voice vote with virtually no debate. It cleared the Senate Judiciary committee earlier in the day by a vote of 4-1. Earlier this week the House passed the bill by an 81-63 vote, after far lengthier debate.
The bill eliminates all possession penalties up to an ounce for adults 21 and older, allowing them to grow two mature and four immature plants per household. The bill has an effective date of July 1, 2018.
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, took umbrage at the notion, raised by legalization opponents, that the bill was being rushed through the legislative process.
“The rush started in 2015, Mr. President, and here we are in 2018 voting on a bill,” Sears said, addressing Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who presides over the Senate, as convention requires.
Sen. President Pro Tem, Tim Ashe, (P/D-Chittenden), echoed Sears, noting that this step was years in the making, and he thanked legalization advocates and lawmakers who ultimately opposed legalization for nonetheless participating in the legislative process.
“While we’re prepared to take what could be final vote on this issue, this is not the result of one week of work. This is the result of three years of pretty intensive committee work,” Ashe said.
While Thursday’s vote may be the Senate’s final on H. 511, it is unlikely to be the last time the Senate votes on a cannabis bill, as many in the chamber still hope to pass a tax-and-regulate structure for recreational marijuana sales.
Sen. John Rogers called for as much on the floor, after giving a brief history of cannabis in the United States, saying the tax revenue could pay for education, prevention and enforcement.