The Vermont medical marijuana program took an important step forward today when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed S. 14, a bill that will make it possible for more patients to qualify for the medical marijuana program.
"At a time when opiate addiction is ravaging our state and drug companies continue to urge our doctors to pass out painkillers like candy, we need to find a more practical solution to pain management," Shumlin said in a statement.
Specifically, the bill reduces the threshold for a pain diagnosis from "severe pain" to "chronic pain." It also adds glaucoma as a qualifying condition, and it reduces the required provider-patient relationship from six months to three months. A summary of these changes and others made by S. 14 is available here.
Today, the Vermont senators who support ending marijuana prohibition stepped onto the Senate floor knowing they would face a contentious debate from their prohibitionist colleagues. After much discussion, the champions of reasonable regulation narrowly prevailed when the Senate voted 16-13 to approve S. 241!
However, S. 241 must survive an additional floor vote before it advances to the House.
If you are a Vermont resident, please send one more message to your senators and let them know how you feel about this historic development! Consider editing the form message to express your own thoughts about how marijuana prohibition has failed Vermont.
In approving S. 241 today, the Senate became only the second legislative chamber in the United States to approve a marijuana legalization bill. (The New Hampshire House of Representatives narrowly passed a similar bill in 2014, but it did not advance.). The fact that it has made it this far is a testament to the strength of our robust Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, your many calls and emails, and the leadership of Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders.
Yesterday, in his state of the state address, Gov. Peter Shumlin asked the Vermont Legislature to develop and pass a marijuana regulation bill in the 2016 session. “I will work with you,” he told legislators, “to craft the right bill that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably.”
This is great news, but passage of a marijuana regulation bill is far from being a done deal in Montpelier. Senate committees will begin working out the details very soon, but many legislators remain either opposed or on the fence.
If you are a Vermont resident, please contact your lawmakers and tell them you agree with Gov. Shumlin that it's time to end prohibition.
In addition to Vermont's substantial progress on marijuana regulation this year, state legislators quietly passed a bill that will make a big difference in the lives of people who have been convicted of misdemeanors for marijuana possession. Sponsored by Senator Joe Benning (R-Lyndonville), S. 115 allows Vermonters who have been convicted of crimes for “conduct [that] is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense” to have their records expunged after one year (in most cases).
Gov. Peter Shumlin signed S. 115 into law May 26. It took effect upon passage. As a result, individuals who were convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession before Vermont’s decriminalization law passed in 2013 may now petition the court to have their record expunged.
As the Aug. 26 Vermont primary election approaches, it’s clear that momentum for ending marijuana prohibition in Vermont continues to build. Governor Shumlin’s administration is currently working with the Rand Corporation to study the potential impacts of marijuana regulation, and many legislators are already convinced that marijuana should be treated similarly to alcohol.
If you have been wondering where candidates on your ballot stand on marijuana policy, today is your lucky day. Please click here to view MPP’s voter guide for the Vermont primary election.
Voting for favorable candidates is one important way to advance the issue, but we know that supporting good candidates is rarely enough to create real change on its own. We understand that it will take an organized, statewide effort to build support for this reform.
Accordingly, we are also very pleased to unveil the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana’s new website.
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.
On Wednesday, the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a bill that will improve access to medical marijuana and remove the arbitrary cap of 1,000 patients who may benefit from dispensaries. S. 247 was approved by the House last week, and the bill will now move forward to Governor Peter Shumlin’s desk where it will receive his signature.
Sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), this bill will increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program. Additionally, the bill was amended by the House to initiate two studies: One will explore the possibility of adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program, and one will evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol.
That’s right — not only did Vermont legislators improve the medical marijuana law this year, but they are already gathering the information they will need to consider sensible marijuana policy reforms during next year’s legislative session.
Vermont’s medical marijuana program has come a long way since the law was first approved by the Legislature back in 2004. In 2011, MPP worked with Vermont legislators and our allies to secure approval for four state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries. As a result of that law, which was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, the fourth dispensary began serving patients in southern Vermont last Tuesday.
This is great progress, but we can’t stop here. The addition of four dispensaries has dramatically improved access for patients, and over 1,000 patients have now registered for Vermont’s program. But there are still a number of issues with Vermont’s medical marijuana law that need to be addressed, including an absurd restriction that only 1,000 Vermont patients may be served by dispensaries.
We are currently urging Vermont legislators to pass S. 247, which would eliminate the 1,000-patient cap and make other positive changes to Vermont’s medical marijuana law. Sponsored by Senator Jeanette White (D), S. 247 would authorize the Department of Public Safety to license two additional dispensaries. It would also allow dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients, and it would allow naturopaths to certify patients for the program.
S. 247 has already been approved by two Senate committees, and a vote is expected soon by the full Senate.
If you are a Vermont resident, please email your senator and ask them to support his sensible bill.
Last week brought new hope for making marijuana legal in Vermont, a state that just decriminalized marijuana possession this past summer. Harry Chen, Vermont’s Health Commissioner, indicated support for taxing and regulating marijuana at the end of the week:
Let’s see what happens in other states. We have a grand experiment going on in Washington state and Colorado, certainly in my discussions with officials around the country we want to see what happens in these states when you start to regulate it.
We want to ensure there’s appropriate funding for any dealing with the health effects just like we theoretically have liquor taxes and we do devote some of that money to dealing with the health effects of alcohol. [MPP emphasis added]
Chen’s comments come after Gov. Shumlin (D) said he was open to the idea of marijuana legalization last Wednesday.
Just last Monday, MPP predicted Vermont to be one of the next 10 states to legalize marijuana use and pledged to support efforts in those states to end marijuana prohibition by 2017.
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.