Vermont House Defies Sessions, Votes To Legalize Marijuana

By on January 7, 2018

The Vermont House voted Thursday night to legalize recreational possession of marijuana only hours following an announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordering the Justice Department to rescind an Obama-era policy on legal weed.

Lawmakers approved the bill by an 81-63 vote. The law will allow individuals 21 and over to legally grow and possess marijuana in small amounts. The Vermont State Senate is expected to approve the bill and Gov. Phil Scott (R) has indicated that he will sign the law when it hits his desk, even though he vetoed similar legislation last year.

According to the Burlington Free Press, House Republicans in Vermont tried to delay the vote after the Sessions announcement, but Democrats were undeterred. Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe was critical of Sessions and his attacks on legalized marijuana in a statement after the vote.

“Apparently, he’s 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 Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, who is a supporter of legalization.

Policy advocates for legalized marijuana praised the move, including the Marijuana Policy Project.

“Vermont is poised to make history by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana cultivation and possession legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative. We applaud lawmakers for heeding the calls of their constituents and taking this important step toward treating marijuana more like alcohol,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

So what does this mean for Vermont? Will they face intervention by federal prosecutors? U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan didn’t comment specifically on the legalization bill, but did say that she saw the Sessions move simply as clarification of the existing policies that guide her office.

“We’re going to use the principles we’ve long used in all drug cases to prioritize our finite resources,” Nolan said.