A plan to legalize the personal possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared an important hurdle Thursday evening when the Vermont House gave its approval to the legislation by a vote of 81 to 63.
Senate leaders say the outlook for the passage of the bill in their chamber is good and Gov. Phil Scott says he'll sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Vermont is now poised to become the first state in the country to legalize marijuana through the legislative process.
In the eight states that have already legalized marijuana, the issue was approved by voters in a statewide referendum and the role of lawmakers was to work out the details of the plan.
The bill passed by the House allows individuals to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to two mature plants.
Newbury Rep. Chip Conquest, the vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, urged House members to support the bill.
"Continuing to prohibit the personal use of a substance that poses little risk to public safety and less risk of harm to the user than other legal substances is antithetical to a free society which must to remain free have a rational justification for infringing on the freedom of its citizens," said Conquest.
Arlington Rep. Cynthia Browning wanted to delay legalization until there's a reliable roadside test to measure marijuana impairment.
"I want them to know that if they are pulled over, there will be a way to ascertain whether they are impaired, just as they know with alcohol," said Browning.
Browning’s amendment was defeated.
The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Bennington Sen. Dick Sears, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, says he supports the House approach and hopes that it's the first step towards a more comprehensive system.
"I would love to have a tax and regulated piece of the bill, but that's not possible, so I understand that," said Sears.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he wants to crack down on states that have legalized marijuana, but Sears doesn't think this threat will have much impact in Vermont.
"It shouldn't influence this bill because this bill was really about how Vermont law enforcement would treat someone who's in possession of an ounce or less or a certain number of plants in their possession,” said Sears.
Sears says the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its review of the House's plan on Wednesday.