On 22 January 2018, Vermont became the ninth US state to legalise possession of cannabis for recreational purposes, when Governor Phil Scott (Republican) signed House Bill 511 (Text of Act as passed by House and Senate). The law will take effect on 1 July 2018. Vermont is the first state to legalise by an initiative of the elected legislature, rather than one drafted and voted by the public, as Vermont’s laws do not permit such ballot initiatives. The legislation, however, only permits home growing and personal possession. Commercial production, distribution and sale are not allowed. Washington, D.C. has a similar law.
The new law permits personal possession of up to 1 ounce (28.5 g) of herbal cannabis or 5 g of cannabis resin, and two mature cannabis plants and four immature plants per household. Minor breaches and public consumption are civil offences, but chemical extraction (e.g. by butane) and supply to minors are crimes. A new advisory commission will examine possible commercial models, road safety and education and prevention strategies, and report to the Governor by 15 December 2018. The main rationale for legalisation is to combat disparities in enforcement of drug laws towards ethnic minorities.
According to SAMHSA surveys 2014–2015, 20.8 % of Vermont adults (age 12+) had used cannabis in the last year; the fourth highest rate in the United States, behind Washington DC (23.9 %), Colorado (23.6 %) and Alaska (22.3 %). The highest comparable rate in the European Union (age 15–64) is 11 %, in France.
The Vermont law was signed despite the 4 January announcement by the US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, repealing ‘previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement’ (1). The new announcement reiterates that Congress has determined that ‘marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime’. It then reminds prosecutors how to exercise discretion in using their finite resources, ‘to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.’ While this is a symbolic political statement, it remains to be seen how it will be implemented.