The Vermont Senate just passed a bill legalizing cannabis — a rebuke to Jeff Sessions’ crackdown on marijuana

  • The Vermont Senate has passed a bill that legalizes the possession and consumption of marijuana and allows state residents to grow the plant in their homes.
  • Gov. Phil Scott has said he would sign the bill, which would make Vermont the first state to legalise marijuana through a state legislature, rather than a ballot initiative.
  • The bill, however, doesn’t set up a commercial market for the sale of marijuana.

The Vermont Senate just approved a measure allowing the possession and recreational consumption of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The move comes as a sharp rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement that the Justice Department will go back to enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalised the drug. (The US government considers cannabis an illegal, Schedule I substance.)

Vermont’s new bill is limited in scope – it doesn’t establish a market for production and sale of the drug. But it will make Vermont the first state to legalise marijuana via the legislature, rather than through a ballot initiative, provided Republican Gov. Phil Scott signs the bill. The previous eight states to legalise marijuana, along with Washington D.C., have all done so through a statewide vote.

Gov. Scott has previously told reporters he will sign the bill, though he vetoed a previous version in May. Scott will have five days to sign the bill once it lands on his desk.

After he signs, the new policy would go into effect on July 1. Some lawmakers may press to establish a market for the sale of marijuana after that.

Sessions is a longtime opponent of legalised marijuana. The Attorney General rescinded the Obama-era directive known as the Cole Memo, which instructed the Justice Department to place a low priority on enforcing federal marijuana laws against businesses and organisations that comply with state laws.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Vermont’s bill.

Activists in favour of marijuana legalization are cheering the state’s move, however.

“While prohibitionists like Attorney General Jeff Sessions desperately try to force our country to return to the dark ages, his flailing seems to be for naught,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement. “The American people have made their position clear.”

Approximately 64% of Americans currently support cannabis legalization, according to a recent Gallup poll. As of March 2017, 57% of Vermonters were in favour of it.

New Hampshire’s House – Vermont’s direct neighbour – passed a similar marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday.