Here’s What Vermont’s Legalization Law Allows—and Doesn’t

Young woman holding a bunch of medical marijuana plant.

With today’s signing by Gov. Phil Scott, Vermont becomes America’s ninth state to legalize the adult use of cannabis and the first to legalize through a state legislature.

Congratulations, Vermont!

Now, what does it actually mean?

Vermont's legalization law is one of the tightest in the nation. You may possess a limited amount, but you may not buy or sell.

That’s where it gets complicated. Vermont’s new legalization law, which takes effect on July 1, 2018, is one of the nation’s most limited legalization regimes. The new law allows for small and private home grows, possession, and consumption. It does not set up a regulated system for commercial farming or sales. That, hopefully, will come a little later down the road. Gov. Scott’s Marijuana Advisory Committee is scheduled to deliver a report by Dec. 15 that lays out recommendations for a legal, regulated state system.

The top-line brief: As of July 1, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis flower is legal for adults age 21 and older. Possession of up to five grams of hashish will also be legal. Private individuals of legal age may grow up to two mature (flowering) cannabis plants per dwelling. They may also grow up to four immature (non-budding) plants per dwelling.

Former Gov. Pete Shumlin, left, advocated for legalization, but his successor, Gov. Phil Scott, right, moved the measure over the finish line by signing the bill into law earlier today. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

There’s a Whole And/Or Problem Here

Beyond that, things grow muddled. After July 1, can you possess both one ounce of flower and five grams of hashish? That’s not certain, as the law contains some tricky use of the word “or” that confuses the issue.

Also: In some places the law says an adult may possess two mature plants or four immature plants. In other places the law says an adult may possess two mature and four immature plants.

Also also: The law mentions “hashish” but makes no mention of edibles, topicals, concentrates like shatter or wax (is “hashish” a catchall?), vape oil, tinctures, or any other common cannabis products. The use of “hashish” makes it seem like the legislators who wrote the law time-traveled to the 1970s to learn about cannabis.

Clearly, this is a law that will need some improving. Until then, we’ve combed through the final language and come up with the handy guide below.

What to Know Before You Go…and Consume

The new law:

  • Removes all criminal and civil penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, or more than five grams of hashish, for persons 21 years of age or older. As the law is written, it’s unclear whether this is an either/or situation—in other words, whether you can possess both an ounce of flower and five grams of hash, or whether you’re limited to an ounce or five grams and cannot possess both.
  • Does not allow for the commercial cultivation and/or sale of cannabis to persons 21 years of age or older. Vermont’s law is strictly a homegrow, personal-use law as it stands now. The law does, however, mandate that the state make plans to adopt a “comprehensive regulatory structure for legalizing and licensing the marijuana market.” The Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission has been directed to report on such a system by Dec. 15, 2018.
  • Legalizes the possession of paraphernalia for cannabis use for persons 21 years of age or older.
  • Legalizes the cultivation of two mature cannabis plants or four immature plants, for anyone 21 years of age or older. “Immature” means a female plant that has not flowered and does not have visible buds. Those plants must be in an enclosure screened from public view and secure so that access is limited to the cultivator. The cultivation limit applies to each dwelling, regardless of how many residents 21 or older reside in the dwelling. So: One house, two mature plants, period. The law is clear that these plants may be possessed in addition to the one ounce of cannabis flower. The law is not clear about whether a person may possess two mature plants and four immature plants—again with the “or” problem in the law’s language. In some of the law’s sections, two mature or four immature plants may be possessed. In other sections, two mature and four immature plants may be possessed.
  • Retains civil and criminal penalties for possession of cannabis above the legal limit, and for unauthorized sale or dispensing of cannabis. A person 21 or older who possesses more than one ounce of flower, but less than two ounces, and more than five grams of hashish but less than 10 grams, faces a $200 fine.
  • Revises civil and criminal penalties for possession of larger amounts—and those penalties can be significant. For a first offense, the offender will be offered a drug diversion option. That first offense may also come with a $500 fine and/or six months in jail. Second and subsequent offenses come with a $2,000 fine and up to two years in prison. Personal possession of more than one pound of cannabis flower or more than 2.8 ounces of hashish, or cultivating more than six mature plants or 12 immature plants, may face up to a $10,000 fine and five years in prison. For possession of 10+ pounds or more than one pound of hashish, or cultivating more than 12 mature plants or 24 immature plants, faces a $500,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.
  • Retains civil (not criminal) penalties for underage possession; those penalties are the same as for underage possession of alcohol. To wit: a $300 fine, 30-day driver’s license suspension for a first offense; $600 fine and a 90-day license suspension for subsequent offenses.
  • Establishes civil (not criminal) penalties for consuming cannabis in a public place. “Public place” means any street, alley, park, sidewalk, public building other than individual dwellings, any place of public accommodation (hotels, motels, etc.), and any place where tobacco smoking is prohibited. Penalties are: $100 for first offense, $200 for second offense, $500 for third and subsequent offenses.
  • Establishes criminal penalties and civil action for the act of furnishing cannabis to a person under 21 years of age. Those range from two years in prison and a $2,000 fine, up to five years and a $10,000 fine. Different penalties apply to a person under 21 who furnishes cannabis to another person under 21. (It gets complicated. Just don’t touch it if you’re under 21.)
  • Does not legalize personal cannabis extraction—in fact the new law establishes chemical extraction of cannabis (via butane or hexane) by private parties as a crime. Penalties range from two years/$2,000 up to five years/$5,000. There are exceptions under the law for state-registered medical cannabis dispensaries.
  • Defines “marijuana” as all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa.
  • Allows school authorities to impose administrative penalties for the possession of cannabis on school property.
  • Allows landlords to ban possession or use of cannabis in a lease agreement.
  • Does not allow a jail or prison inmate to possess or use cannabis.
  • Does not allow a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle to consume cannabis or possess any open container that contains cannabis. This is treated the same as an alcohol open container law. In addition, a driver who is operating a motor vehicle containing secondhand cannabis smoke shall be considered to be “consuming” cannabis. Pro tip: Keep it in the trunk.
  • Allows for the legal consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles for hire (limousines, party buses, etc), but does not explicitly allow or prohibit the consumption of cannabis in same. (I know, weird.)
  • Prohibits the sale of drug paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, papers, etc) to anyone under the age of 18. Penalties run up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
  • Does not require an employer to permit or accommodate the possession or use of cannabis in the workplace.
  • Does not prevent an employer from adopting a policy that prohibits the use of cannabis in the workplace.
  • Does not “create a cause of action against an employer” who fires an employee for a policy that prohibits the use of cannabis by employees.
  • Creates a special category of prohibition for persons convicted of selling cannabis to minors, as a felony, after July 1, 2018. Those people may not possess any cannabis, and are subject to civil penalties if they do.
  • Takes effect on July 1, 2018.