MONTPELIER, Vt. (May 4, 2017) – Yesterday, the Vermont House passed a bill that would legalize possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. If approved, the legislation would help further nullify the unconstitutional federal prohibition on cannabis in the state.
A bipartisan coalition of four representatives introduced House Bill 170 (H.170) in February. The legislation would legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of two mature plants or four seedlings by adults 21 and over. The bill does not create any regulatory or taxing structure, and would not legalize the sale of marijuana.
The House narrowly passed H.170 by a 75-71 vote after a contentious debate.
According to media reports in Vermont, the Senate probably won’t take up the bill this year. The session will end Saturday. The upper chamber will likely consider the measure in 2018. In Vermont, bills this year will carry over to next.
Last month, the Vermont Senate passed a more aggressive proposal that would not only legalize marijuana possession, but also create a framework for commercial cultivation and retail sales. The measure passed after a procedural move by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham). She added the measure as an amendment to H.167. The Senate passed the bill in concurrence with the amendment by a 21-9 vote.
Observers say the House won’t likely approve the Senate’s more extensive legalization scheme.
“I don’t think that’s the baby step to take,” White said. “It does nothing to decrease the black market.”
Even if the Vermont legislature ultimately takes the more limited approach passed by the House, it would still represent a major step forward and would set the stage to begin nullifying federal prohibition in the state.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage of H.170 would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place. Vermont has already taken a first step by legalizing medical marijuana, and in February, the state Senate passed a bill to expand that program.
Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Vermont essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Vermont is among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states last November. More than 2-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
H.170 will move to the Senate for further consideration. Although the current session ends this week, the bill will carry over to 2018.