Vermont May Become 9th Recreational Marijuana State If Gov. Phil Scott Signs Bill

Vermont House passes bill to legalize recreational marijuana.
Manager Vanya Lopez, 26, displays jars of cannabis at the La Brea Collective medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California on March 18, 2014. Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS

Vermont's House of Representatives has passed a measure that would legalize recreational marijuana. If Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signs the law, Vermont would become the ninth state to legalize adult use of marijuana.

The passing of the bill, which was approved in a 79-66 vote Wednesday, according to Reuters, marks the first recreational marijuana measure to be approved by a state's legislature. The other eight recreational pot states—Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Alaska— plus Washington D.C., introduced legal marijuana programs following public votes.

If Scott doesn't veto the bill, starting July 2018 adults in Vermont will not only be able to consume marijuana legally but people 21 and older would be allowed to grow up to two mature marijuana plants at a time. Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana would also be legal.

A nine-person team of researchers also is commissioned to conduct a study to determine the best ways to regulate and tax sales of the plant, as well.

However, it is unclear if Scott will sign the bill. The governor has been vocal about his stance on marijuana, telling reporters in 2016 that "right now" wasn't the time for Vermont to be legalizing recreational pot. A spokeswoman for Scott, Rebecca Kelley, told Reuters in a statement that the governor wanted to make sure public safety and health concerns are addressed before singing the bill into law.

"On the issue of legalizing marijuana, the governor has said he is not philosophically opposed, but we must ensure certain public safety and health questions are answered," Kelley said.

Supporters of the bill urged the governor to move forward with the law.

"The Legislature has taken a crucial step toward ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. There is no rational reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol," Matt Simon, political director of the New England chapter of pro-legalization group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a statement issued to Newsweek.

Simon's team at the MMP has helped push marijuana legislation in Vermont including a similar measure that was rejected by the House in 2016.

"It's time for Vermont to move forward with a more sensible marijuana policy," Simon said. "The voters and the Legislature are behind it, and we hope the governor will be, too."

Voters appear to be in favor of legalizing marijuana in Vermont. A March poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found 57 percent of voters living in the state supported legislation that would allow adults to use and possess small amounts of marijuana while only 33 percent were against it.

Opponents of the law, including anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, were disappointed by legislators' approval of the bill and encouraged Scott to veto the measure.

"This legislation isn't about criminal justice reform. Vermont already passed decriminalization legislation in 2013—no criminal penalties for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana were being issued. This is about opening the doors to a new addictive industry being funded by Big Tobacco that will install retail pot shops in Vermont neighborhoods and lobby politicians to suppress common-sense regulation," SAM President and CEO Kevin A. Sabet said in a statement issued to Newsweek. "We will continue to give a voice to parents, and public health and safety experts to encourage Governor Scott to choose people over profit and veto this harmful legislation."

Vermont would be the third East Coast state to pass recreational marijuana legislation, if Scott signs off on the law. However, nearby in Connecticut and Rhode Island, legislators also are considering adopting similar adult-use laws. In April, lawmakers in Rhode Island had their first legislative meeting on the topic of legalizing recreational pot while Connecticut's Senate Judiciary Committee also hosted a public hearing regarding a bill that made adult use legal back in March.