“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.”

These were the words of the Governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, as he signed H. 511 – legislation that makes Vermont the ninth state to legalise cannabis. H.511 is ‘an act relating to eliminating penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older…’ 

This latest development in the United States means Vermont now joins Alaska, California, Colorado, Washington, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon, as states that have reformed their laws around cannabis. Vermont’s reform process however, differs from the eight states preceding it, as Sanho Tree – a Fellow for Institute for Policy Studies – discusses,

"Vermont is the first state to legalise cannabis via the legislative process instead of direct ballot initiative, but lawmakers did not approve a system of regulated sales. In that sense, it's similar to the Washington DC model where adults are allowed grow and give a limited amount of cannabis, but remuneration is not permitted. Vermont's nickname has always been "The Green Mountain State" and soon it will be truer than ever before as residents learn the finer points of cannabis cultivation.”

Unlike the previous eight U.S. states that voted to legalise cannabis, Vermont is not looking for retail outlets or taxation. Instead, the model is similar to Spanish Cannabis Social Club models, where cooperatives and domestic cultivation is permitted. There is still great deal of societal benefits that can come from such a move. Sanho Tree points out the nuances between an illegal market, a cannabis social club style model, and a state regulated cannabis supply/taxation model,

“I think it would hurt organised crime in that people will probably tend to buy (albeit illegally) from local growers they trust. If legalisation in Colorado has taught us one thing, it's that many growers who've been claiming to have been organic all these years were lying. Quality testing by state regulators has kept many batches of tainted cannabis products off the shelves. Since one doesn't wash cannabis before smoking, dangerous pesticides can be combusted and inhaled directly. It really is best to know your grower. Cannabis club models can be a good solution short of state regulated commercial sales.”

So what exactly is allowed under Vermont’s legislation?

“Recent legalisation of marijuana in Vermont has historic significance for being the first legislative designed bill that allows adults over 21 years to possess one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate and grow a limited number of plants for personal use.”

Diane Goldstein is a retired Lieutenant Commander in California and is a board member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a police and military organisation who advocate for the reform of our drug laws for the sake of public safety. She maintains that the United States has been the main protagonist in the ideology which shaped the ‘war on drugs’ with Richard Nixon’s administration coining the term in 1971. Since then, punitive drug policies have impacted the most vulnerable and already disenfranchised members of society. Diane conveys just why Vermont’s move to reform a small aspect of their drug laws is such a positive step in a longer journey.

“There’s clear emphasis in Vermont’s legislation in protecting children. Attention is being given to the prevention of sales to minors, all the while allowing responsible adult consumption and cultivation. This passage of the law continues the forward movement to end one aspect of the failed drug war that has taken place since the passage of the California Compassionate Use Act in 1996.”

The 1996 California Compassionate Use Act w0061s an act which saw first use of the term ‘medical marijuana’ – a move that many believe was the very first step in ending the United States’ entrenched federal prohibition. Over two decades on and California began in its sales of legal cannabis on New Year’s Day 2018, marking a significant moment in global drug policy.

With states taking on their own unique initiatives to legalise cannabis, we’re perhaps still a little distance away from the complete breakthrough in seeing the U.S. fully reform their laws around marijuana. But it’s clear that momentum is ever increasing and legislators and the public alike are increasingly eager to see their policies change. With Vermont being the latest state to reform its cannabis laws, it may set the tone for other states to follow with a similar pattern.

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