This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now approaching the top of our list. The remaining states all have legalized medical marijuana. The criminal penalties in the remaining states range from bad to good, but many have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This week we cover state number 13: Vermont.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16. Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal penalties. Vermont has decriminalized the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, categorizing it as a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. Possession of 1-2 ounces earns a maximum sentence of 6 months in prison and a fine up to $500. A subsequent conviction for possession of this amount earns a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison and a fine up to $2,000. Possession of between 2 ounces and 1 pound earns a maximum of 3 years in prison and a fine up to $3,000. Possession of 1-10 pounds earns a maximum of 5 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000. Possession of over 10 pounds earns a maximum term of 15 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000.
The sale or distribution of cannabis is punished based on weight, as follows:
- Less than 1/2 ounce earns a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
- 1/2 ounce to 1 pound earns a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000.
- 1-50 pounds earns a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000.
- Over 50 pounds earns a maximum sentence of 30 years a fine up to $1,000,000.
The penalties for the sale or distribution of cannabis increase if sold or distributed to a minor.
Medical marijuana. Vermont first legalized medical marijuana in 2004. The Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Act allows patients to possess up to two ounces of cannabis. A doctor must diagnose a patient with a debilitating medical condition. The patient must register with Department of Public Health and obtain an authorization card. A patient must establish a “bona fide health care professional-patient relationship” with the doctor authorizing marijuana use. This means that the doctor must have treated the patient for at least six months prior to recommending cannabis. However, a patient suffering from a terminal illness, cancer with distant metastases, or AIDS may establish this relationship without having to wait six months.
Vermont recently expanded the conditions that qualify a patient for medical cannabis. Patients placed in hospice care and patients suffering from chronic pain or glaucoma now qualify for medical marijuana use. The Cannabist reports that Governor Peter Shumlin had a compelling reason to expand Vermont’s medical marijuana program:
In signing the bill, Shumlin said opiate addiction has become a severe problem in Vermont and around the country. He says if much-less addictive marijuana can be used instead, that can address patients’ pain without the threat of severe addiction.
Recreational use. In 2016, the Vermont State Legislature nearly legalized the adult use of marijuana, without requiring a medical authorization. The proposed legislation was not approved during the 2016 legislative session, but lawmakers continue to research and debate further legalization. Vermont is the home state of Senator Bernie Sanders who has called for cannabis reform at the federal level. Politicians in Vermont appear to be receptive to the idea of legal cannabis.
Bottomline. Vermont has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and its criminal penalties are relatively light. Twelve years ago Vermont legalized medical marijuana and recent changes show its lawmakers are willing to reform the program, allowing more patients to use medical marijuana. As Governor Shumlin indicated when signing the bill, Vermont is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse and medical cannabis may serve as a viable alternative to addictive pharmaceuticals. If Vermont legalizes recreational marijuana it could be one of the leading states on cannabis. Unless and until that happens, it will remain just outside of the top-ten cannabis states.