This afternoon, Vermont became the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana possession (two others have made it legal). Gov. Peter Shumlin, a vocal champion of sensible marijuana policies, signed H. 200 at about 1:30 p.m.
This is a major victory for MPP and our legislative allies in Montpelier, who have worked hard to build support for this sensible reform.
The next step for Vermont policymakers will be to consider legal alternatives to the illicit market for marijuana. Attorney General William Sorrell has publicly argued in favor of decriminalizing plants, and many legislators have made the case for replacing marijuana prohibition with a taxed and regulated system.
If it passes in the Senate and is not vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez, H.B. 465 would make the first offense for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense, punishable only by a $50 fine. Possession of one to four ounces would also be punishable by a civil fine of up to $100. Second offenses would be petty misdemeanors subject to double the fine amount, but would still carry no risk of jail time. Possession of four to eight ounces would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300.
While the Senate was passing S.B. 472, SD 1, the House was also approving legislation to improve Hawaii’s marijuana policies. The House passed H.B. 667 (allowing out-of-state patients and making other improvements) and H.B. 668 (transferring the medical marijuana program from the public safety department to the health department). The two bills now move to the Senate for committee hearings.
This past year was undeniably the most productive 365-day period in the history of the marijuana policy reform movement. There were a number of significant accomplishments, but here is the Marijuana Policy Project’s list of the “Top 10 Marijuana Victories of 2012.” As with our previous annual lists, it includes neither important scientific developments nor important international developments. Rather, this list focuses on the biggest marijuana-related policy accomplishments in the U.S. in the last year.
Marijuana reform is a hot topic of conversation in state legislatures around the country and not just in traditionally liberal states like California and Rhode Island. In fact, bills to make marijuana possession punishable by a fine only, rather than jail time, were introduced this year in conservative bastions like Arizona and Tennessee, and it’s a too-well-kept secret that such laws have been on the books since the ’70s in Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, and several other less-than-liberal states.
You can now add Indiana to the list of states where the conversation has gone mainstream. Last week, influential Republican state Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) announced he’d be introducing legislation to make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana an “infraction,” punishable by fine, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.
“We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket,” Steele told local media. “Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?” Steele also pointed out that several other states have already embraced similar policies, noting that “society didn’t melt down, and we didn’t turn into a drug-crazed culture as a result of it.”
Similar legislation has been introduced before by state Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), but without the support of Republicans, who hold a majority in both chambers, it never got off the ground. Speculation is that Steele’s support could change that. Steele, who is closely allied with Indiana prosecutors and is described by Indiana political veterans as a “rock-ribbed law-and-order guy,” chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters where the bill would likely be assigned.