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Vermont legislature votes to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

The Vermont State Legislature [official website] on Monday gave final approval to a bill [H 200, PDF; MPP backgrounder] that replaces criminal penalties with civil fines for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana [JURIST news archive] and up to five grams of hashish. As the law currently stands, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can lead to a six-month prison sentence, a fine of up to $500, or both. Any subsequent offense can result in a two-year sentence and a fine of up to $2,000. Under the new bill, persons over 21 would receive civil fines similar to those given for traffic violations. Subsequent violations would track a tiered system of increasing fines, but no criminal record would attach to the possessor. Similarly, a person under 21 caught with an ounce or less would be subject to the same penalties as provided by Vermont law concerning underage possession of alcohol. According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MMP) [advocacy website], the bill will now advance to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin [official website], who is expected to finalize the bill with his signature. If approved, the law will take effect on July 1, making Vermont the seventeenth US state to decriminalize marijuana. According to media sources, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell [official website] and Vermont's Public Safety Commission testified before the state legislature in favor of the bill. In addition, 63 percent of Vermont voters approved the proposal in local elections in 2012.

The sale and use of marijuana remains a controversial issue in the US and abroad. Earlier this month the Supreme Court of California ruled [JURIST report] unanimously that local governments may outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries, upholding a ban enacted by the city of Riverside in 2010. In February the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the private sale of medical marijuana is illegal [JURIST report]. Additionally, the top court in Ontario upheld Canada's general ban on marijuana [JURIST report]. In December an Arizona judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law is constitutionalm[JURIST report] and instructed the state to permit dispensaries to open. In November lawmakers in Uruguay proposed legislation for state-regulated marijuana [JURIST report]. Also that month Washington and Colorado legalized the drug [JURIST report] via state ballot initiatives. Similarly, medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts [Harvard Crimson report] for the first time, as over 60 percent of voters approved a similar referendum.

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