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Marijuana decriminalization bill signed into law in Vermont

Vermont became the 17th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Vermont has become the latest state to remove criminal penalties for the possession of small quantities of marijuana with legislation signed into law.

Civil fines will replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or 5 grams of hashish.

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“This change just makes common sense,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement after signing the legislation on Thursday. “Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana.”

Possession under the age of 21 will be treated the same as underage possession of alcohol -- a court referral for a first offense, possible civil penalties and/or license suspension, and criminal penalties for a third offense.

The New England state is the 17th to adopt such legislation. Similar decriminalization laws already exist in California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Nebraska, where non-medical possession is regarded as a civil, non-criminal offense.

Vermont law previously punished possession of up to 2 ounces of the drug with a six-to-24-month prison sentence.

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The state legalized the drug for medical use in 2004.

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devin.kelly@latimes.com

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Twitter: @devkelly17

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