Vermont state senators introduce marijuana decriminalization bill

A tri-partisan group of nine senators introduced a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill proposes “to change the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by a person 21 years of age or older from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine.” For individuals under the age of 21, however, they would face the same penalties that they do for underage possession of alcohol.

Civil fines would be capped at $100 per incident, and fifth-time offenders would face a maximum charge of $500.

The revenue generated by the proposed fines would be split evenly — minus a $12.50 administrative charge per incident — between funds for law enforcement officers on the state’s drug task force and a court drug awareness and safety program for teens.

Gov. Peter Shumlin called on the Legislature to approve a marijuana decriminalization bill before the session began, and House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, who has opposed such measures in the past, has said he “will not stand in the way” this year.

If Vermont passed this legislation, it would join 13 states that have already decriminalized marijuana — not including Washington and Colorado, which legalized the substance for recreational use earlier this year.

Oregon became the first state to decriminalize marijuana in the early 1970s; and Ohio, Alaska and Wisconsin quickly followed suit.

Sponsors of the marijuana decriminalization bill:
• Sen. Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden
• Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia
• Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden
• Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington
• Sen. Sally Fox, D-Chittenden
• Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor
• Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington
• Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham
• David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden

Andrew Stein

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