Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed a bill on Thursday decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, will remove criminal penalties on possession of up to an ounce of cannabis and replace them with civil fines.
“I applaud the Legislature’s action to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana," Shumlin said last month, announcing his support for the bill. "Vermonters support sensible drug policies. This legislation allows our courts and law enforcement to focus their limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive opiates such as heroin and prescription drugs that are tearing apart families and communities."
According to the new measure, first-time offenders will not get more than a $200 fine for possession. The fine will increase for repeat offenders. Under the law, marijuana possession will no longer result in the creation of a criminal record.
Vermont legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and now joins 14 other states that have adopted decriminalization laws for non-medical cannabis. In 2012, voters in two additional states, Washington and Colorado, approved ballot measures to tax and legalize marijuana for recreational use among those 21 years old and above.
An ACLU report on released this week found that African Americans in Vermont were 4.4 times more likely be arrested on marijuana charges than whites, according to 2010 records. Despite this difference, blacks and whites reported using the drug at near-equal rates. This disparity was greater than the national marijuana arrest rate, which was 3.7 times greater for African Americans than it was for whites.