Vermont senators approved a bill that would double decriminalized marijuana possession and cultivation limits, and establish automatic expungements of low-level cannabis offenses.
In 2018, the Vermont legislature legalized marijuana possession up to one ounce and permitted the cultivation of up to two plants without fear of criminal charges. But if found in possession of more than one ounce of cannabis or more than two plants, an individual is subject to misdemeanor charges.
In a voice vote concerning the expungement bill, senators added an amendment to reduce the punishment for exceeding these limits to a civil infraction subject to a $100 fine with no jail time. Now, possessing more than two ounces or growing more than four plants would be considered a misdemeanor, with convicted individuals referred to a court diversion program.
The proposed legislation primarily concerns expungements of marijuana-related offenses up to July 1, 2020, which are to be completed within a year.
“Upon entry of an expungement order, the order shall be legally effective immediately and the person whose record is expunged shall be treated in all respects as if he or she had never been arrested, convicted, or sentenced for the offense,” the text of the bill reads. “The court shall issue an order to expunge all records and files related to the arrest, citation, investigation, charge, adjudication of guilt, criminal proceedings, and probation related to the sentence.”
While the amended language means many thousands more Vermonters may have their cannabis-related criminal records sealed, the bill still awaits approval from the House before landing on the governor’s desk for review. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic throwing up all manner of challenges to the functioning of the Vermont legislature, it is unclear how long this may take.
Meanwhile, marijuana reform advocates in Vermont continue with their efforts to allow legal sales of cannabis in the state. Vermont became the first state to pas marijuana legalization legislation through its legislature in 2018, but the measure did not include provisions allowing for legal sales.
The Senate approved a bill that would establish a tax-and-regulate cannabis industry in Vermont last year with a veto-proof majority. The House passed its own version of such legislation earlier this year. The next planned step was to combine the separate pieces of legislation into one bill. A bicameral conference committee was formed with this aim but it has not yet convened, largely owing to the coronavirus outbreak.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said in May that lawmakers’ priority for the time-being, as with many other states considering cannabis reform legislation, is on the COVID-19 response. She said that marijuana sales legislation would be reconsidered later this year.