Lawmakers in Vermont became the first in the nation to approve recreational marijuana use Wednesday through their state legislature rather than through a popular ballot.
A bill fully legalizing marijuana passed in a tight vote in the Vermont House of Representatives Wednesday, which previously passed in the state Senate. The approval of both chambers marks a first for state efforts to legalize recreational pot use. Recreational smoking is already legal in eight states but this marks the first time the legalization process went solely through a state legislature, reports USA Today.
Four states fully legalized marijuana on the day of the 2016 election, but all those efforts stemmed from popular ballot referendums voted on by residents. The future of the bill in Vermont is uncertain, but if Republican Gov. Phil Scott signs it into law, they will become the ninth state to approve recreational pot use.
“I think it reflects that Vermont elected officials are more in touch with our constituents than a lot of elected officials in other states,” Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, told USA Today. “I think the public is ahead of us, but elected officials tend to be cautious when it comes to change.”
Scott is open to liberalizing marijuana laws in the state but is wary about taking such a large step to full legalization. He argues the state has more important policy matters than legalization and worries about the effects it may have on highway safety.
“I don’t believe this is a priority for Vermont,” Scott told USA Today. “I believe that what we should be doing is trying to find ways to protect those on our highways, deliver a level of impairment that is consistent throughout the Northeast, as well as to address the edibles for our kids before we move forward with legalization. Having said that, I’m going to review the bill as it’s passed.”
Scott’s predecessor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, pardoned 192 individuals convicted on marijuana charges after receiving 450 requests before Christmas last year. Scott voiced his support for the commuted sentences at the time and asserted his openness to working on the issue.
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use on election day. Roughly 1 in 5 Americans now have access to some form of legal marijuana.
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