On Thursday, Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill to make Vermont the 17th state in the United States to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The new law would treat possession of less than an ounce of marijuana as a civil offense and fined as such.
Prior to the new law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana resulted in six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail thereafter.
Shumlin said, “This change just makes common sense … Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana.”
The new law also would treat possession of less than 5 grams of hashish in the same manner as would treat possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. People younger than the age of 21 caught with small amounts of marijuana or hashish would be treated in the same manner as underage in possession of alcohol. They will be referred to a court diversion program meant for first-time offenders.
However opponents of the law claimed that decriminalizing marijuana would affect public health. David Evans, special adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation said, “It’s a very unfortunate trend, the public perception of the dangers of marijuana has not caught up with the science … when the science is more apparent to everybody, they’re going to be very sorry for what they did.”
Other states that treat possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil penalty include California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island.
In Washington and Colorado, recreational use of marijuana is now permitted but being regulated by law.