Vermont Senate passes marijuana legalization bill, sends to governor

MONTPELIER — Marijuana was top priority once again in the Senate chamber Wednesday, and senators wasted no time passing H.511 and sending it on to the governor’s desk for consideration.

With a decisive voice vote, lawmakers approved a bill from the House that decriminalizes possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and ownership of two mature and four immature pot plants by residents 21 and older.

Michael Bielawski/TNR

SENATE GONE TO POT: For what could be the last vote on legalizing marijuana in the Vermont Senate, lawmakers passed H.155 Wednesday afternoon by a decisive voice vote.

The quick approval marks a difference in priorities between Democratic and Progressive lawmakers and the governor.

RELATED VIDEO: First week features clash between pot smoking and helping military families

Gov. Phil Scott indicated in recent media interviews that he may sign the measure, although he vetoed a similar bill last year, and Vermont’s top law enforcement groups are warning against it, the Valley News reported Tuesday.

Weeks prior to the 2016 election, the Vermont Police Association endorsed Scott for governor, citing his public-safety-before-legalization approach as the basis for support from police. It’s unclear if the governor would lose the group’s support in the next election cycle if he signs the bill.

The sticking point for Scott last year was public safety — especially highway safety and the protection of children. At the time, Scott said if a new version of the marijuana bill didn’t include adequate safety measures, he would veto it again.

The main challenge for highway patrolmen has been their inability to measure marijuana intoxication among motorists.

Blood tests don’t work because there’s little correlation between the amount of THC in a motorist’s bloodstream and intoxication. Studies show THC can stay in the blood for up to a month after a person gets stoned on the drug.

To combat driving under the influence,Vermont is training drug recognition experts, or DREs, but their methods and viability in court testimony is still a work in progress.

Last year Scott created a marijuana advisory commission made up of health professionals, law enforcement and other experts. The commission’s first report is due to be released Jan. 15.

Senators offered few lengthy remarks during Wednesday’s session, and most of the dialogue came from Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, who offered a history lesson on marijuana and hemp — though little of it had to do with issues being debated in Vermont.

“I thought it would be great for everyone to have a little bit of the history of cannabis and the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which I still think should be challenged and overthrown as it was passed completely on lies and misinformation,” he said.

Rodgers said cannabis and its close relative, hemp, were a staple in colonial and early American life, not only for recreation but as a medicinal herb. Hemp also had uses in paper, fibers and cloth.

“Cannabis hemp is, overall, the strongest, most durable, longest lasting natural soft-fiber on the planet. Its [materials] … depending on the culture, were first, second, or the third most important medicine for two-thirds of the world’s people for over 3,000 years,” he said, quoting history sources.

Rodgers added that the Colonies mandated growth of marijuana plants by all farmers in Jamestown, Virginia, and by 1937 marijuana was used in about 50 percent of all medicines.

“I hope some of you will look through this — there’s a lot of interesting facts in here about the history of cannabis,” he concluded.

Ahead of the vote, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, thanked both sides of the debate for sticking it out until this point.

“While we are prepared to take what could be our final vote on this issue, this is not the result of just one week’s worth of work,” he said. “This is the result of years’ worth of work and some pretty exhaustive committee time.

“Even those who didn’t support the final movement for legalization put in a lot of time to ensure that all of the issues [were vetted thoroughly].”

Fast action on H.511 comes as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently rescinded an Obama-era rule that allowed states to legalize marijuana without fear of federal prosecution.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

18 thoughts on “Vermont Senate passes marijuana legalization bill, sends to governor

  1. “Choom Gang” Mr. Pike? That’s a new one. Care to explain? Your hearsay evidence on the R vote count for legalization is wrong. But to get the actual numbers I’ll refer you to last year’s roll call vote on legalization in the Senate. If memory serves, the Senate has voted at least three times on legalization since 2011 and there were roll call votes each time. The last roll call was last spring. I was not the only Republican voting affirmatively. No senator I knew saw the need to waste any more time with a roll call last week since we all already knew who was voting what way.

    The Senate vote this week was on whether to accept two suggested modifications by the House on a compromise bill that had been worked out with the Administration after last year’s veto. That compromise bill had been left pending on the House calendar after the veto session, which is why it was the first thing on the House calendar this year. The Governor vetoed the Legislature’s original tax and regulate bill because he didn’t believe it covered enough bases. He then set up a Commission to cover those bases. Their report will make specific recommendations should Vermont move to a tax and regulated system. H.511 was a strict libertarian approach to dealing only with legalization, and Phil Scott has been 100% consistent on his libertarian approach since I met him in 2010. To claim he has “flipped” is simply wrong.

    To those who believe this was “rushed,” there was no rush. This issue has been studied extensively for over three years, covering every issue presented in this comment string and then some. Having served on Government Operations (which spent every Friday for one whole session examining marijuana enforcement history and current Vermont consumption), Judiciary (which spent countless hours examining what other jurisdictions have done right and wrong) and the Governor’s Commission on Marijuana, I can safely say that Vermont has properly done its homework. Having read and helped draft the report shortly to be produced by the Governor’s Commission, which he himself has been constantly briefed upon, I can also opine that it isn’t telling us much we didn’t already know. Should we move to a tax and regulated system, it provides plenty of suggestions on how to do it right. That’s why Phil Scott wanted it.

    In the meantime, thirty-six states, including Vermont, have had a medical marijuana system in place for years. Legal recreational use is now, or will shortly be, authorized by a growing number of jurisdictions, including Canada. All the while Vermont has ranked at or near the top in consumption per capita across virtually every age group surveyed. Every survey available concludes that the majority of citizens in this country are in favor of legalization, and that includes a substantial majority here in Vermont.

    But your comment Mr. Pike makes this is a good place to start a different discussion. I joined the Republican Party because it featured six core components that I agreed with: smaller government, low taxes, a free market economy, a strong educational system, personal responsibility and individual liberty. It is sad to see so many commenters on this, a conservative forum, who seem to have abandoned that last component. Our party grows old and gray, while another generation of young people who’d prefer to believe in liberty are lost to us when we present ourselves as more interested in telling others how to live their lives. That’s the very definition of “hypocrisy” and they know it. So do our Democrat and Progressive opponents, who press home that point every election.

    So at what point will my Republican Party remember its Libertarian core? I remain hopeful that we will some day turn from “just say ‘no'” in these discussions to actually contributing substantively to the debate, otherwise our party will surely hemorrhage out of existence. Put more artfully recently by the Republican Representative from the town of New Boston, New Hampshire, as that state made the first move to adopt a bill similar to H.511: “It does not look good for the Live Free or Die state to be an island of prohibition in a sea of freedom.” (Now there’s a Republican I really like.)

  2. IF the Governor signs the pot bill – and I say IF because it’s not yet a done deal – blood will be on his hands the next time Vermonters are killed or maimed by a pot-impaired driver or criminal actor; something that’s already happening with alarming frequency. Also, those of us who supported Phil during his campaign, with our money and our votes, may think twice before doing so again! 🙁

    • “Also, those of us who supported Phil during his campaign, with our money and our votes, may think twice before doing so again!”

      I know I won’t,I was sold the thought he was a conservative when he very easily could carry the tag of the other parties.

      One word,Primary.

  3. So Montpelier thinks this is Ok , until you have the elected officials in DC house & Senate
    change the current law to make it legal , it’s still illegal under Federal Law !!

    This is just a feel good Liberal bill …………. Vermont has real problems but the elected official
    in Montpelier can only focus on POT , pretty shameful .

    The Governor says he will sign it into law ( sad ) as he hasn’t fully studied the ramification that
    will soon follow . What happened to serve & Protect

  4. Behind all this pot frenzy at the state level there is the simple fact that controlled drugs, including pot, are illegal under federal law. Anyone making, growing, importing, exporting, transporting, selling, buying, using or possessing illegal drugs is subject to federal administrative or criminal sanctions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The feds are moving on immigration sanctuaries. Perhaps they will move on drug sanctuaries. The other interesting consideration is whether or not Phil Scott will be reelected. I do not think Republicans will vote against him, but I suspect many will just not vote for him.

    • @ Steven Pike

      “The other interesting consideration is whether or not Phil Scott will be reelected. I do not think Republicans will vote against him, but I suspect many will just not vote for him.”

      While the governor has a R after his name he is not exactly a conservative.

  5. How can it be, in the current situation with property and state taxes climbing every year, that the most important issue for our state government is dealing with the legalization of pot???

  6. ‘The main challenge for highway patrolmen has been their inability to measure marijuana intoxication among motorists.’

    UMM – anyone who wants to smoke cannabis – ALREADY DOES and there is no way for Law Enforcement to measure it – nothing changes except for the State no longer making people criminals over a natural plant. I think its about time we let people do what they want with their own bodies and start focusing on REAL crime

    • Pot is already decriminalized in VT. What’s the point of this bill then?
      I agree it’s a Democrat Party feel good legislation – give them bread and circus and maybe they won’t notice there are no good jobs or affordable housing in VT unless you want to go on welfare. Heck, WHY would you work a full time job if you can get all the bennies and still have time to grow and smoke your own pot.

  7. So when is it the self esteemed representatives plan on concentrating on the peoples business,never mind I know the answer.

  8. I am opposed to both the vote and the haste with which it had to be a priority. But I am much more upset, as a past legislator, with the “cover” that these senators chose by obviously colluding to NOT call for a ROLL CALL VOTE so that none of their constituents can hold them responsible for this fiasco. Key votes on major legislation deserve a vote ON THE RECORD.

    • Already contacted Senators Branagan and Brock. I am told the only Republican who say “Yea” to pot was “Choom Gang” Joe Benning out of Caledonia.

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