Beginning this week, the Rand Corporation will send representatives to Vermont to work with the state’s Secretary of Administration on a study of the effects of taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol, the Manchester Journal reports.This research was mandated by an amendment to a bill that made several improvements to Vermont’s medical marijuana law. Vermont will be funding the initial part of the study, paying Rand $20,000, with up to $100,000 in private donations coming from the non-profit organization GiveWell. Rand Corporation is a non-partisan organization with no official position on marijuana legalization.
Governor Peter Shumlin, Commissioner Keith Flynn of the Department of Safety, and other top officials have expressed interest in learning more about how marijuana regulation would impact Vermont. State Senator David Zuckerman, who sponsored a marijuana regulation bill this year, said he was enthusiastic about the study process: "I think the study will help with legislators and the public who inherently think it's a good idea but want evidence they can hold up to show people." Matt Simon, MPP’s New England political director, said, “The narrative from Colorado has been 'so far, so good.’ The sky clearly hasn't fallen." The report is due to be completed by January and lawmakers hope that it will lead to an informed debate on marijuana policy in the coming legislative session.
Following the governor’s signature on Thursday, Vermont became the latest state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
On June 28, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed House Bill 200 into law. The law, which goes into effect July 1, eliminates criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replaces them with civil fines. First-time offenders will face up to a $200 fine, while repeat offenders cannot be charged more than $500 per offense.
The governor has been a vocal proponent of marijuana policy reform for years, and announced his support for the bill after it passed through the Senate last month. “Vermonters support sensible drug policies, “ he said. “This legislation allows our courts and law enforcement to focus their limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive opiates such as heroin and prescription drugs that are tearing apart families and communities.”
The measure has been popular among voters and state officials alike: the House and Senate approved the tripartisan-sponsored bill with large majorities; numerous public officials, including Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn and Attorney General William Sorrell, testified in its favor; and 63% of Vermonters expressed support for decriminalization in a 2012 poll.
MPP’s Matt Simon applauded the law, saying, “This is a much-needed step forward toward a more sensible marijuana policy. Nobody should be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
Vermont legalized medical marijuana in 2004 and is now the 17th state to eliminate the threat of jail for simple possession.