Vermont Recreational Marijuana Legalization: What Is Legal, What Is Not?

Recreational marijuana use officially became legal in Vermont on Sunday.

Vermont is the ninth state in the U.S. to legalize cannabis for recreational use and also the first state in the country to do so through its legislature. The law was signed in January by the state’s governor, Phil Scott. Now, individuals 21 years of age or older in the state can legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and own up to six marijuana plants (two of which can be mature and four of which must be immature).

However, aspects of the state’s legalization remain ambiguous, with authorities saying some things will become more clear on a case-by-case basis. For instance, while possessing up to 1 ounce is legal, it’s unclear how police will enforce the rule with edibles, Burlington Free Press reported. The law is also vague about usage in public versus private as well as how a garden must be secured.

Despite the confusion over technicalities, weed industry employees told local media they have seen a growing interest in their business.

“We definitely have seen a ramp up in interest and very excited after today to introduce this hobby, this therapeutic and recreational hobby to a whole host of new people," Kelsy Raap, general manager of Green State Gardener, told Burlington Free Press.

Speaking in support of the legislation, Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman told local television station WCAX on Saturday that Vermont is “changing [its] laws to reflect what's happening in society.” Zuckerman pointed out that many people have been consuming marijuana for a long time illegally, and criminalization has negatively impacted people’s lives.

“Many people have been in this state or around the country incarcerated, particularly people of color. It's an opportunity to change that and, you know, folks deserve their individual choices,” the lieutenant governor said.

Although some points of the law remain unclear, there are still many things that are clearly forbidden. Using cannabis in a vehicle, just like consuming alcohol, is strictly prohibited for drivers and passengers. Smoking in federally maintained areas—such as Lake Champlain—is still a criminal offense, as weed is still completely illegal at the national level. And it’s still forbidden to sell weed throughout Vermont.

Employees also should not assume that cannabis use will be seen the same by their employers as recreational drinking.

“If [employers] drug test their employees, including for the presence of marijuana, employers can still do that,” Heather Wright, a Burlington-based employment lawyer told Vermont Public Radio. “For the most part, Vermont employers are allowed to take their own stance on what they do with drug use in the workplace.”

At the same time, Wright said most employers in the state are “indifferent to what an employee does on their off hours.”

GettyImages-949314350 A member of the International Church of Cannabis holds up a jar filled with marijuana during the church's 4/20 celebration on April 20, 2018 in Denver, Colorado ASON CONNOLLY/AFP/Getty Images

Vermont’s implementation of legal recreational cannabis comes less than two weeks after Canada became the first wealthy Group of Seven (G-7) nation to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide. The North American country is also only the second country in the world to do so, following a decision made by Uruguay in 2013.

Recreational marijuana is legal in eight other U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia. It has also been legalized for medical use in 30 states, but remains completely illegal under U.S. federal law.

With Canada’s move, as well as more and more states moving to decriminalize and legalize, campaigners hope the U.S. will be next to remove the drug’s stigma at the national level.

John Conroy, the president of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Canada branch, previously told Newsweek that Canada’s decision “will undoubtedly have some bearing on how things will ultimately play out federally in the U.S.”

Addressing cannabis in the U.S. also has growing bipartisan support. Senators Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, and Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, have recently circulated legislation in Washington aiming to protect marijuana users who follow state regulations from prosecution. The bill also states that buying or selling pot would no longer be considered drug trafficking.

Commenting on the proposed bill, President Donald Trump said he “probably will end up supporting” it if it moves forward. The Republican Party of Texas also recently voted to officially support the decriminalization of cannabis and the use of medical marijuana.

In addition to Warren and Gardner’s bill, several others have been put forward in Congress just this year.

“Just a few short years ago it would have been inconceivable to imagine a leader of one of two major parties introduce a bill to de-schedule and decriminalize marijuana at the federal level,” Michael Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, said in a press release emailed to Newsweek. “And yet, here we are in the very next session of Congress with several bills that would end federal marijuana prohibition introduced in the Senate by prominent members of both parties.”

Join the Discussion