House lawmakers seek legal marijuana, lesser penalties for possession of other drugs

MONTPELIER — Members of the House Judiciary Committee have introduced bills to legalize the possession of 2 ounces or less or marijuana, and reduce the penalties for possessing other drugs like cocaine and heroin in small amounts.

Rep. Maxine Grad

Rep. Maxine Grad

The bills were introduced by Chairwoman Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River and Rep. Thomas Burditt, R-West Rutland. The marijuana bill, H.170, would remove all criminal and civil penalties for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana, two or fewer mature marijuana plants and seven or fewer immature plants.

The legislation does not create a legal, regulated market in the state, however. The Senate passed legislation last year to do that, but it failed spectacularly in the House.

Grad told the Vermont Press Bureau last month that she was looking to address a lack of parity in Vermont’s marijuana laws. Under current Vermont law, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana is a civil violation that carries a fine of up to $200 for a first offense. However, possessing 1 to 2 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to two marijuana plants are still considered criminal misdemeanor offenses and are punishable by a fine and up to six months in jail.

The marijuana legislation also eases the penalties for possession of larger amounts of the drug. Adults who are in possession of more than 2 ounces of marijuana but less than 3 ounces could face a civil penalty of $200. Possession of more than 3 ounces could face a criminal charge with a fine of up to $2,000 and jail time of no more than two years. Possession of a pound or more could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and up to three years in jail. Finally, possessing more than 10 pounds of marijuana could result in fines up to $100,000 and jail time of up to 10 years.

People under the age of 21 would not be allowed to legally possess any amount of marijuana under the proposed legislation.

Rep. Thomas Burditt

Rep. Thomas Burditt

The same three lawmakers also introduced H.167, a bill that would lessen the penalties for possession of small amounts of other drugs, including cocaine and heroin. The bill is intended to keep addicts from facing felony charges.

Under the proposed legislation, possession of less than 3.5 grams of cocaine could result in a felony charge. Current law sets the amount for a felony charge at 2.5 grams. The felony level for possession of heroin would increase to 1 gram, up from the current level of 200 milligrams.

Both bills will first be considered by the House Judiciary Committee.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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