Pot Decriminalization Bill Introduced in Vermont

Montpelier — A tri-partisan group of nine senators, including two from the Upper Valley, introduced a bill yesterday that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill proposes “to change the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by a person 21 years of age or older from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine.” For individuals under the age of 21, however, they would face the same penalties that they do for underage possession of alcohol.

Civil fines would be capped at $100 per incident, and fifth-time offenders would face a maximum charge of $500.

The revenue generated by the proposed fines would be split evenly — minus a $12.50 administrative charge per incident — between funds for law enforcement officers on the state’s drug task force and a court drug awareness and safety program for teens.

Gov. Peter Shumlin called on the Legislature to approve a marijuana decriminalization bill before the session began; and House Speaker Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, who has opposed such measures in the past, has said he “will not stand in the way” this year.

If Vermont passed this legislation, it would join 13 states that have already decriminalized marijuana — not including Washington and Colorado, which legalized the substance for recreational use earlier this year.