MONTPELIER, Vt. (Feb. 2, 2016) – A Vermont bill that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use and create a framework for retail sales passed out of committee this week. If ultimately signed into law, the legislation would take a big step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in practice in Vermont.
Sen. Jeanette K. White (D-Windham) and Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) officially introduced Senate Bill 241 (S.241) on Jan. 5. The Senate Committee on Judiciary significantly amended the original bill and then passed it, issuing a favorable report.
Under the proposed law, individuals 21 and older could legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Possession of amounts greater than one ounce would remain a criminal offense subject to existing penalties.
The legislation would also set up a structure to license and regulate retail marijuana outlets. These stores would be allowed to legally sell up to once ounce of marijuana to any person over the age of 21.
S.241 enhances penalties for supplying marijuana to persons under 21 and also creates and funds a drug prevention program for youth. The proposed law essentially treats marijuana similar to alcohol.
If S.241 becomes law Vermont would become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process. Gov. Peter Schumlin has already announced support for the legislation.
“The war on drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition… The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage of S.241 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation or use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.
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 the Vermont bill would not alter federal law, it would take 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 erasing the state laws, the Vermont legislature would essentially sweep away 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.
If the state legislature passes S.241, Vermont would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly 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.
S.241 now moves to the Senate Finance committee, where it needs to pass by a majority vote to move forward.
IMAGE: Vermont Flag by J. Stephen Conn, via Flickr