Beginning July 1, adult (21+) cannabis use and cultivation will be legal in the state of Vermont. This exciting news comes with some caveats, however. While Vermont made history when Republican Governor Phil Scott signed H.511 this past Monday—this marks the first time a state has legalized cannabis through direct legislation, instead of via voter ballot measure—the law remains unclear if recreational cannabis sales will come to the Green Mountain State. As Gov. Scott stated after the signing, “. . . marijuana remains a controlled substance in Vermont and its sale is prohibited.”
Think of it this way: Vermont’s legalization is certainly worth celebrating, but closer legislation-wise to what we’ve seen in the District of Columbia rather than, say, in Oregon or Colorado. Although nine states (and D.C.) have legalized recreational cannabis use, only five of those states (Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Alaska) currently have recreational shops where buyers 21+ can legally purchase cannabis. D.C. has no recreational shop plans as of yet, and Maine and Massachusetts both plan to be fully operational by this summer. Initial estimates proclaimed Maine would see recreational cannabis in early 2018, but only time will tell.
Vermont’s H.511 passage has netted important gains—we just don’t want you to think you can pop into a rec shop on your next Vermont ski trip. Here’s what the law means for Vermont:
- Residents 21 and older may grow up to “two mature marijuana plants and four immature marijuana plants per housing unit” and possess “up to one ounce of marijuana,” according to the Burlington Free Press.
- Plants must be grown out of public view, and cleared with landlords if grown by rental tenants. Landlords reserve the right to ban marijuana grows in rental agreements.
- You can still be arrested for marijuana possession if you are found to have more than one ounce of flower. The yield from home-grown plants does not count towards this limit if the flower is safely stored in one’s home.
- The usual laws surrounding cannabis consumption remain. No public use (parks, sidewalks, hotels, restaurants, etc.) and no driving under the influence.
- 511 does not affect Vermont’s standing medical marijuana program, which was legalized in 2004. Med patients will still be able to possess up to two ounces of cannabis and can grow up two mature plants and seven immature plants.
For now, we’ll have to wait and see if recreational sales will come to Vermont. At the post-signing briefing, Gov. Scott emphasized that “. . . until we have a workable plan to address [the effects of legislation on education, prevention and highway safety]—I will veto any additional effort along these lines . . .” For legalized states, the tax revenue from recreational sales is perhaps one of the greatest perks of passing pro-cannabis legislation. Vermont (at least, for now) will miss out on those profits.
But any legislative progress is still progress. Vermont has struggled with the opioid epidemic, and in 2016 “saw a large spike in drug overdose deaths—from 108 in 2015 to 148 in 2016,” according to Vox and the Vermont Department of Health. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in a 2014 study that, in states where marijuana is legal, deaths related to opioid overdose and withdrawal have declined by almost 25 percent. Perhaps this passage will provide new medicinal avenues for those struggling with addiction.
It is our sincere hope Vermont sees remarkable changes beginning this summer, and will eventually allow the sale of recreational cannabis. H.511’s passage is more evidence that, even across party lines, legalizing cannabis just makes sense.