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Vermont: Lawmakers Move To Decriminalize Pot

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
House legislators have introduced a bill that would change Vermont's penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The "Act Establishing a Sensible State Marijuana Policy" would change the penalty for any person in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine of up to $100. Larger amounts of the drug would continue to be considered a criminal violation subject to imprisonment.

"Minor amounts should be a minor offense," said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. "Possession for small amounts of marijuana should not be a criminal offense."

According to the drafted legislation, minors (under the age of 18) in possession of marijuana would be required to participate in a drug awareness and community service program run by court diversion. Minors failing to complete the program would be assessed a civil fine of up to $300 and would lose their driver's license for 90 days.

Any violation under the bill as introduced "shall not result in the creation of a criminal history record of any kind, and no information about the violation shall be maintained in any criminal record or database."

Deen said it is particularly important for young Vermonters to have a minor infraction voided upon satisfactory completion of the awareness program so it doesn't affect things such as student financial aid, employment opportunities or driver's licenses.

If the bill were to pass, Vermont would become the 13th state to decriminalize small marijuana possession for personal use. A similar law passed with 65 percent of the vote in Massachusetts last November.

The legislation is expected to meet some resistance from Republicans in the Statehouse, who say the proposal would not lessen the workload for local and state authorities.

"There's just no need for this bill," said House Minority Leader Patti Komline, R-Dorset. "This wouldn't be saving us any money and wouldn't be relieving any of the burden of the court's time."

Furthermore, Komline said many of the young offenders in the system for possession only get a slap on the wrist by going to diversion, do not serve any jail time and have the charge erased from their records.

"A large percentage of these cases now are not handled in a heavy handed manner," she said.

But supporters argue treating these incidents as a civil violation would save tax dollars and law enforcement resources that otherwise would be wasted arresting people with small amounts of the drug.

"There is no reason an otherwise responsible adult should face the life-altering consequences of a criminal arrest for what amounts to a minor indiscretion," said Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, in a statement. "This modest reform will allow our police to quickly deal with these situations so that everybody can move on to more important matters."

Zuckerman introduced the bill, which was been referred to committee at this stage in the legislative session.

Advocates of the bill also refer to a Mason-Dixon survey where 63 percent of polled Vermonters support a change in the law to a $100 fine without jail time for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use.

Almost half of those questioned also said they would favor making the drug legal for adults over the age of 21 and regulate it in like manner to alcohol, while 37 percent opposed the idea.

The Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. commissioned the poll in early January.

Nancy Lynch with the Vermont Alliance for Intelligent Drug Laws said the poll numbers show the support for reasonable changes in marijuana penalties.

"Vermonters don't want to see people ensnared in our criminal justice system for possessing a small amount of marijuana," said Lynch. "They see decriminalizing these violations as a modest, uncontroversial solution."

Nevertheless, opponents say there are more important law enforcement issues that need to be addressed, such as the comprehensive sex offender bill floating in the Senate.

News Hawk: User: 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: reformer.com
Author: Chris Garofolo
Copyright: 2009 MediaNews Group
Contact: Contact Us - Brattleboro Reformer
Website: Lawmakers move to decriminalize pot - Brattleboro Reformer
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