The Vermont House gave preliminary approval on Friday to a bill that would provide for automatic expungements of marijuana convictions and allow people to possess and grow more cannabis without the threat of jail time than is currently allowed.
Under the proposal, those with convictions for marijuana possession of up to two ounces, four mature plants and eight immature plants prior to January 2021 would have their records automatically cleared. Those who receive expungements would be notified by mail.
The House voted to advance the bill in a 113-10 vote, and final third reading consideration to send it to the Senate is expected next week.
While the state legalized possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants in 2018, possession of a second ounce or third plant is currently considered a misdemeanor. That would change if the new bill is enacted.
The legislation states that, starting in 2021, people with simple cannabis possession convictions would also be allowed to deny that record in employment, license or civil rights applications—regardless of whether they’ve received a notice that their expungement has been processed.
That provision was added by the House Judiciary Committee, which got jurisdiction over the legislation following Senate approval of the bill in May. Language from a separate Senate expungements bill was included in the legislation and S. 234 cleared the panel last week. After the expected final approval by the House, the proposal will go back to the Senate for concurrence before being sent to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R).
The legislation would additionally expand state law to decriminalize possession of under two ounces of cannabis—just like a separate bill that cleared the Senate earlier this year would do. That Senate-passed bill would also decriminalize possession of a fourth mature plant, while the new House proposal only covers up to three mature plants and six immature ones.
People who are caught possessing these decriminalized amounts would face up to a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and a $500 for subsequent offenses.
“It’s gratifying to see that the House and Senate have finally come together in support of automatic expungement,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “The legislature did a great thing when it legalized cannabis in 2018, but cannabis prohibition will not truly be over in Vermont until criminal records are expunged and an equitable market is established. Vermont has a chance to take a huge step forward on cannabis policy if both S. 234 and S. 54 become law.”
This development comes as legislators and activists continue to push for the legalization of marijuana sales in the state.
Both the House and Senate approved legislation to create such a tax-and-regulate model for cannabis. A bicameral conference committee, which has been appointed to merge the differences between the chambers’ bills, has met three times so far—and members are close to finalizing the proposal, with only the issue of tax rates remaining outstanding at the end of last week’s meeting of the panel.
The Senate approved S. 54, the cannabis sales legalization bill, with a veto-proof majority last year during the first half of the two-year legislative session. The House voted in favor of its version of the legislation in February.
Meanwhile, Vermont Democratic Party insiders included planks to decriminalize drug possession and legalize marijuana sales in a draft platform for 2020. The document is still subject to change based on comments from county committees and delegates at the party convention on Saturday.
Outside of Vermont, both chambers of the Virginia state legislature this week approved bills to help people clear prior marijuana convictions from their records.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.