MONTPELIER, Vt. (May 30, 2019) – Last week, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill into law that will allow people with certain marijuana charges on their records to have them expunged. This law takes another small step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect.
A bipartisan coalition of four representatives sponsored House Bill 460 (H460). The new law broadly reforms the state’s criminal records expungement process for various crimes. It includes a provision that will allow individuals convicted of marijuana crimes before cannabis was legalized to apply for expungement. Under the law, an individual will be able to apply for expungement if “the person was convicted of an offense for which the underlying conduct is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense.”
With Gov. Scott’s signature, the law will go into effect Oct 1, 2019. Other aspects of the bill will take effect on July 1.
The new law will not only help people with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their record get a new start, but it will also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.
In the past, we’ve seen some opposition to marijuana legalization bills because the new laws generally leave those previously charged and convicted unprotected. The passage of H460 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis 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.
In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2004. Legalization in Vermont removes a large layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most 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.
The new law further undermines prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Vermont.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Vermont joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. 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.
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