With near breakneck speed, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin went from saying earlier this month that he was “still struggling” with whether support legislation to legalize a recreational cannabis industry in 2016 to calling for lawmakers to get together on a bill to bring down prohibition in the Green Mountain.
On Thursday, during his annual State of the State address, Shumlin urged lawmakers to get serious about putting together a proposal to tax and regulate marijuana, noting that 80,000 Vermont residents used marijuana in 2015, contributing to the sustainability of the black market.
“That’s why I will work with you to craft the right bill that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably,” Shumlin said. “I believe we have the capacity to take this next step and get marijuana legalization done right the Vermont way. Let’s do it together.”
Outlining five key points, Shumlin said the right bill should keep marijuana out of the hands of minors; keep taxes low enough to lure people out of the black market; fund prevention programs; devise stronger laws against driving under the influence; and exclude the sale of marijuana edibles until the state has a chance to conduct more research in an effort to strap the appropriate regulations to these types of products.
Interestingly, Governor Shumlin’s requirements are similar to a proposal drafted over the summer by Senator Jeanette White. Earlier this week, White announced that her proposal – Senate Bill 241 – had been submitted to the state legislature in hopes of legalizing recreational marijuana this year. The bill seeks to legalize the cultivation, possession, and sale of marijuana for adults 21 or older, but unlike similar measures introduced throughout the nation, it comes with a provision that would allow the state to set up a number of cannabis lounges throughout the state.
There has been a great deal of focus on Vermont for the past year due to the state’s progressive move to not only legalize a medical marijuana program but to also eliminate the criminal penalties associated with black market marijuana possession. Last year, pot advocates predicted that either Vermont or Rhode Island would become the first state to legalize the leaf by way of the state legislature, an event that NORML founder Keith Stroup claims is “crucial” to the influence of reform in states without the luxury of passing ballot initiatives.
Marijuana advocates agree that Shumlin’s support for ending prohibition is a big deal across the board.
"It's looking more and more likely that Vermont will be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislature instead of by a citizen ballot initiative," said Tom Angell with the Marijuana Majority. "This signals an important shift in the politics of marijuana."
Shumlin said he is relying on the Senate to give careful consideration to the concept of legal weed in the current session. However, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, who does not support legalization, recently told Seven Days, “The last thing I think the Senate needs is for marijuana legalization to be what controls the session.”
Reports indicate that if a marijuana bill is approved this session, residents could possibly begin growing their own crop in the summer of 2016 — with a retail market expected a year later.