MONTPELIER, Vt. (Jan. 22, 2018) – Today, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill that allows the recreational use of marijuana. Just weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to ramp up federal marijuana prohibition enforcement, passage represents a stinging rebuke from the state of Vermont.
House Bill 511 (H.511) allows adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana (currently a civil offense punishable by a maximum fine of $500) and grow up to six plants, two of them mature, per household. Growers also may keep at home whatever quantity of marijuana those plants produce. Growing one or two plants is currently a misdemeanor, while growing more than that is a felony. H. 511 does not allow commercial production and distribution for the recreational market. Scott, a Republican elected in 2016, has appointed a commission to study that issue.
The noncommercial approach is similar to a bill advancing in neighboring New Hampshire. There, the House passed a similar legalization measure earlier this month.
According to Jacob Sullum at Reason, Scott, a Republican who vetoed a previous legalization bill last May, is not keen on commercialization. In a message to the General Assembly, he expressed “mixed emotions” about signing the bill. “I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children,” he said. But he added that he still has “reservations about a commercial system which depends on profit motive and market driven demand for its growth.”
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalization of marijuana in Vermont would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Vermont could sweep away much of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take up to 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Vermont now joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed last year. Vermont becomes the first state to legalize through the legislature rather than a ballot measure.
With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
The new Vermont law will take effect July 1.