[JURIST] Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin [official website] signed a bill [H.200, PDF] on Thursday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. Vermont became the seventeenth state in the US [Reuters report] to decriminalize marijuana, adding to a growing trend of more lenient drug laws and regulations. Under the new legislation possession of less than one ounce of marijuana (28.3 grams) would be treated as a civil penalty, replacing jail time with a fine similar to one for a traffic ticket. Additionally anyone under the age of 21 caught with small amounts of marijuana would be treated the same as if they were in possession of alcohol. Upon signing the bill Shumlin emphasized the importance of shifting state resources [press release] from drugs such as marijuana to more addictive and harmful opiates like heroin and meth.
Earlier this week the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported [JURIST report] that black people were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, concluding that such statistics illustrated a racial bias as well as the failure of narcotics law and public policy. In May the Supreme Court of California [official website] 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 [official website] ruled that the private sale of medical marijuana is illegal [JURIST report]. In December an Arizona judge ruled that the state’s medical marijuana law is constitutional [JURIST report] and instructed the state to permit dispensaries to open. On the far end of the spectrum Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana [JURIST report] via state ballot initiatives during the November 2012 election cycle, while Massachusetts also approved the legalization of medical marijuana [Harvard Crimson report] through a similar referendum.