By Lucia Bragg
Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed HB 511 on Monday, which legalizes marijuana in the state.
After HB 511 passed the House on the first day of the 2018 session, and landed on his desk after only a week, Scott indicated he would sign the legislation without fanfare by the Jan. 22 signing deadline.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana via statewide ballot initiative, but the new law makes Vermont the first state in the country to do so through the state legislative process.
The Vermont legislature had decriminalized marijuana in 2013, and HB 511 allows people over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of the substance and grow up to six plants at home.
The bill does not lay the groundwork for marijuana sales, though a report is expected to be released in December that outlines a plan for taxation and regulation of retail sales. The law will go into effect July 21.
Legalization in Vermont materialized just as the issue grew more complicated on the federal level. Only hours before the Vermont House passed HB 511, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidance that restores federal prosecutors discretion to prosecute violations of federal marijuana law in states where it has been legalized for medicinal or recreational use, or where it’s used in cannabidiol products.
This guidance rescinds an Obama administration policy that gave states flexibility on marijuana enforcement. Language preventing the Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws has existed in appropriations legislation since the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was passed in 2014.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged to push for the inclusion of the same language in the 2018 omnibus budget legislation. Last week, NCSL issued a letter to the full Senate urging support of Leahy’s amendment as budget negotiations unfold over the next few weeks.
For additional information on marijuana legalization in the states, read NCSL’s Marijuana Deep Dive.
Lucia Bragg is a policy associate with NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.