The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would remove all civil and criminal penalties for adult possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana. It would also allow adults to grow a total of two mature marijuana plants and seven immature plants per household.
It does not create a regulatory structure for a legal marijuana market.
The proposal is similar to the model adopted in Washington, D.C., in February 2015, after voters approved legalization by ballot initiative the previous November.
The bill, H.170, is sponsored by the three members of the House Judiciary Committee — Reps. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, and Tom Burditt, R-West Rutland.
“It’s sort of like decrim 2.0,” she said, referring to the legislation that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2013, making it a civil offense.
The proposal would address what she said is a “lack of parity” in penalties in the current system between possession of a small amount of dried marijuana, a civil offense, versus a similar amount from a plant, which is a criminal offense.
Grad said the bill fits in with a broader effort the committee is making to evaluate how well the criminal justice system is functioning. The same group of lawmakers is proposing a bill that would reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of heroin, cocaine and other drugs.
The 17-page marijuana bill adjusts the civil and criminal penalties for possessing and cultivating pot above the amounts it would establish as legal. If an adult had more than 2 ounces of marijuana but less than 3 ounces, or slightly above the allowed number of plants, the person would face a civil fine of $200.
Possession of larger amounts would yield stiffer penalties. Those under age 21 would not be allowed to legally possess pot under the proposal.
When asked why she didn’t propose a regulatory framework for legalization, Grad said the licensing structure is outside the focus of the committee.
“Here in Judiciary, we look at crimes, we look at sentencing,” Grad said.
Conquest said that during the testimony on the marijuana legalization bill last year, he had the impression that many who supported legalization were skeptical of a regulated market.
“I got a real sense that there were lots of Vermonters who were uncomfortable with going with the full-scale … licensed retail model,” Conquest said.
Grad said criminalizing marijuana has not been effective at limiting its use. “If we want to reduce use, the best way is through education,” she said.
Burditt voted against the proposal to legalize last year. Though he personally favors legalization, his constituents oppose it, he said.
The makeup of the committee changed after the election, and he believes the measure could pass with or without his support. He decided to back the proposal because he wants to ensure he has a strong voice in shaping the legislation.
As to quantities that would be legal under the proposal, he would like them to be “as minimal as possible to take that baby step forward.”
“It would be real easy to run from this controversial subject, and kind of hide in the bushes and let happen what’s going to happen, but I don’t believe overall my constituents sent me up here to run and hide,” Burditt said.