Vermont's governor indicates he'll sign pot legalization bill headed to his desk

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinds an Obama-era policy that allowed legal marijuana to flourish in states across the country. Sessions says federal prosecutors should decide on their own whether to devote resources to marijuana cases. (Jan. 4)
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MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana, putting Vermont on course to become the first state in the country to legalize pot via legislative act rather than through a citizen referendum.

By voice vote, the Senate agreed to the proposal that would make it legal for adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana but does not set up a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug. The state House approved the bill last week, and Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he would sign it.

“It’s an important criminal justice reform to stand up and say the era of prohibition should end and Vermont needs a more sensible marijuana policy,” said legalization proponent Laura Subin of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana before the vote.

â–º Jan. 8: Pot may be legal in California, but noncitizens still have cause for worry
â–º Jan. 6: Heavy, long-term pot use linked to rare, extreme nausea
â–º Jan. 5: Marijuana sellers undeterred by threat of federal prosecution

The bill would allow adults older than 21 to possess of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in each dwelling unit no matter how many people live there.

State senators who voted against the legislation did not ask for a roll call. The law would take effect July 1.

If Scott signs the bill, Vermont will join eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Washington — and the District of Columbia where possession of small amounts of marijuana are legal for recreational use.

â–º Jan. 4: Uncertainty roils U.S. marijuana industry over feared federal crackdown
â–º Jan. 2: Recreational marijuana in Florida likely on hold for years

In spring 2016, Vermont’s Legislature passed a similar bill, but Scott vetoed it because the Republican thought it didn’t do enough to protect children from marijuana and ensure highway safety.

Lawmakers changed the proposal to address the governor’s concerns didn’t have enough time to pass it during a short veto session in June.

► Dec. 31: How will legalizing marijuana affect police work?
â–º Nov. 14: Predicting the next 15 states to legalize marijuana

While this bill does not contain a mechanism to tax and regulate marijuana, as some states do, lawmakers who favor legalization hope the bill will prompt the Legislature to do that later. The District of Columbia’s pot initiative also does not have a mechanism for sales, regulation and taxation.

“I hope this step leads us to tax and regulate,” said Vermont state Sen. Richard Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Follow Wilson Ring on Twitter: @wringap

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