Last week saw the realization of something that has been keeping the cannabis industry on edge for months. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo – the documentation that prevented the Department of Justice from prosecuting cannabis cases in states where it is legal. He basically gave U.S. Attorneys the option to prosecute marijuana cases to the full extent of federal law at their own discretion.
The state of Vermont took a bold step towards legalization last week only hours after news of Sessions’ first step towards a “crackdown” on marijuana law was announced. Vermont’s House of Representatives voted 83 to 61 in favor of a bill that will fully legalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, and would allow individuals to grow up to six plants in their home.
“Apparently, [Sessions is] more troubled by an 80-year-old using medical marijuana to treat a terminal health condition than he is by coordinating election strategy with Russians,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe.
The same bill is a revised version of a bill vetoed last year by Governor Phil Scott, who says he is “comfortable” with legalization and who is expected to sign the bill when it reaches his desk. The Senate is expected to vote in favor of the bill as well, since they passed the version vetoed last year.
“The political courage of Vermont’s lawmakers to break with nearly a century of legislative stagnation should be interpreted as a siren call in the halls of the state legislatures nationwide as well as the U.S. Capitol,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said.
If this bill passes – as it is expected to – then Vermont will be the first state where a legalization law was passed through legislature, which is something they have been working toward for well over a year now. However, now nearby states New Hampshire and New Jersey are also expected to consider legalization bills in the early months of 2018, so perhaps Vermont is the start of a trend where lawmakers have finally joined the fight against the federal government’s prohibition of the plant.
“The Vermont Legislature’s action underscores that states will continue leading the way toward more humane, sensible marijuana policies even if this administration reverts to the cruel and counterproductive federal policies of the past,” Matthew Schweich, interim executive director of The Marijuana Policy Project, said.
The Vermont House made their vote literally hours after the Department of Justice was given permission to prosecute marijuana cases once again – but their law gives little room for them to be affected. If the Justice Department does act on Sessions latest permissions, they will likely be looking to larger grow operations than individual users. However, regardless of how the government’s new approach will affect them directly, Vermont legislators are still making history with their efforts to be the next state to legalize cannabis.