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Vermont lawmakers just gave Sessions the finger and voted to legalize weed

It will be the first state to do so through its Legislature rather than a ballot initiative.

by Josh Marcus
Jan 10 2018, 7:59pm

Defying Jeff Sessions’ escalating war on weed, Vermont just took another step toward legalizing recreational marijuana — and it will be the first state to do so through its Legislature rather than a ballot initiative.

Vermont’s Senate approved a bill legalizing limited adult consumption and home cultivation of marijuana Wednesday afternoon, after its House of Representatives approved the measure last week. The bill, which does not allow for retail sales, now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who has previously said he would sign it.

Gov. Scott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

“This is a big step forward for Vermont,” said Matt Simon of advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project in a statement. “Vermonters should be proud that their state is becoming the first to do this legislatively.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, but they all did so via ballot initiatives, leaving the decision to the state’s voters, not its representatives.

The move comes on the heels of neighboring New Hampshire’s own weed bill, which received preliminary approval Tuesday in the state’s House of Representatives.

Taken together, these bills represent open defiance of Sessions, who moved last week to rescind Obama-era guidelines that partially shielded legal marijuana states and business from federal prosecution. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

If passed, these laws will also mark the first two recreational legalization bills passed within statehouses rather than by ballot initiative, marking a new willingness for state legislators to embrace legalization directly.

They also help cement New England’s place on the map as a haven for legal marijuana to rival the West Coast. In July, with the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation in New Hampshire, every state in the region had either decriminalized or legalized marijuana.

Maine and Massachusetts both legalized marijuana via ballot initiative in 2016, and are moving to set up their systems governing marijuana sales.

Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy of New Jersey, meanwhile, has promised to sign legislation allowing the possession and sale of marijuana, while Rhode Island, Michigan, and Connecticut are all eying legalization efforts this year.

Besides D.C. and the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana —Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Maine— 29 and the District of Columbia allow it medically.

CORRECTION Jan. 10, 3:42 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana. It is eight states and the District of Columbia.

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