Vermont Senate Passes Bill to Legalize Marijuana, Thwart Federal Prohibition in Practice

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Feb. 26, 2016) – A Vermont bill that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use and create a framework for cultivation and retail sales passed the Senate yesterday. If ultimately signed into law, the legislation would take a big step toward blocking federal cannabis prohibition in practice in Vermont.

Sen. Jeanette K. White (D-Windham) and Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) officially introduced Senate Bill 241 (S.241) on Jan. 5. The Senate Committee on Judiciary significantly amended the original bill and then passed it, issuing a favorable report.

Under the proposed law, individuals 21 and older could legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Possession of amounts greater than one ounce would remain a criminal offense subject to existing penalties.

The legislation would also set up a structure to license and regulate retail marijuana outlets, as well as cultivation sites and testing facilities. Retail stores would be allowed to legally sell up to once ounce of marijuana to any person over the age of 21. The bill would also establish a study committee to consider issues such as edible marijuana products and home cultivation, activities not allowed under the proposed law.

The Vermont Senate passed the bill 17-12. It will now move on to the House for further consideration.

If S.241 becomes law Vermont would become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process. Gov. Peter Shumlin actively supports the bill and has indicated he will sign S.241 if passed.

“We applaud the Senate for advancing this important legislation,” New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project Matt Simon said. “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.”

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of S.241 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation or use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While the Vermont bill would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward stopping in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By erasing the state laws, the Vermont legislature would essentially sweep away the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

If the state legislature passes S.241, Vermont would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically ending the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

S.241 now moves on to the House for further consideration.