A top Vermont lawmaker says the state could become the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.
“It will be up for a vote in early January,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said on Friday. “I expect that it likely will pass in early January.”
In 2017, the state fell just short of enacting legalization. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.
Because the legislature operates on a biennial basis, the bill is still alive, and the House just needs to take one more vote to get the bill onto the governor’s desk.
Last week, Scott said he is “comfortable” signing a marijuana legalization bill into law early next year.
Johnson, in the Friday interview with Vermont Public Radio, said there “hasn’t been a significant shift” in support in the legislature since the momentum for legalization that built up earlier this year.
“We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says,” she said.
All eight states that have ended cannabis prohibition to date have done so via ballot measures approved by voters. Reform supporters think that either Vermont or New Jersey, where Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization, will be the first state to end prohibition through an act of lawmakers.
Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization.
New Jersey lawmakers, on the other hand, are expected to consider full-scale commercial legalization right away, something that Murphy repeatedly argued on the campaign trail is necessary to undermine the illegal market.
Because Vermont’s compromise bill has already cleared one chamber and now just needs approval from the other, the state seems poised to get its legislation across the finish line sooner than the Garden State can act.
But in the interview last week, Scott said it might make sense for lawmakers to make some small tweaks.
That’s because during the legislative recess he proactively created a marijuana legalization study commission via executive order.
“Part of that bill is no longer needed,” Scott said, referring to its commission provisions.
Johnson, in the new interview, said the commission “will provide some suggestions for further action,” such as potentially legalizing and regulating cannabis sales.
“We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible,” she said.