Marijuana Legalization Across the Nation: What’s New In New England?

Marijuana Legalization Across the Nation: What’s New In New England?

While Massachusetts steams ahead with recreational marijuana legalization, two other New England states are fast on their heels.  

While U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions may have recently given prosecutors the power to go after the pot industry, he didn’t explicitly direct them to do so. In the days and weeks since that move, states that were planning to implement or expand marijuana legalization appear to be moving ahead with their plans despite the current legislative limbo.

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The same day that Sessions took steps to roll back federal guidelines protecting state cannabis laws, the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana. A mere five days later, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to legalize the substance for recreational use as well.

Vermont legislature approves recreational marijuana legalization

As USA Today reports, the Vermont Senate agreed by voice vote to a proposal that would allow adults older than 21 to possess of up an ounce of pot and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in their homes. The state House has already approved the bill, and Gov. Phil Scott has said that he plans to sign it. The legislation would make Vermont the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana via a legislative act instead of a citizen referendum.

Vermont passed a similar bill in the spring of 2016, but Scott vetoed it due to fears that it didn’t do enough to shield kids from the drug or ensure highway safety. Legislators made the governor’s requested changes, and when Scott signs the bill into law, Vermont will join eight states (along with the District of Columbia) where recreational pot is legal. While the law, which would take effect July 1, does not include a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug, lawmakers hope the bill will encourage the legislature to add such a system down the road.

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New Hampshire gives marijuana legalization another legislative try

Neighboring New Hampshire has taken a similar approach to Vermont in its path to legalization. As Forbes explains, the New Hampshire House in 2014 became the first legislative chamber in the nation’s history to approve a marijuana legalization bill. That bill died in the Senate, but the latest bill, which is expected to move forward once it leaves the state’s House Ways and Means Committee, would allow people over 21 to possess three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and home cultivation of up to three plants. While retail sales would not be allowed initially, the bill would also create a regulatory system permitting the eventual cultivation and distribution of taxed cannabis sales.

As Forbes points out, a handful of other states are expected to vote on ballot initiatives to legalize medical and recreational cannabis this year, as well. Unless Sessions directs — and not merely suggests — that prosecutors do more to crackdown on states where pot is now legal, it looks like it will be business as usual for the nation’s growing canna-biz.