Understanding Act 86: Vermont's Recreational Pot Law

Gov. Phil Scott signed Act 86 into law in January 2018, making it legal for adults 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and cultivate a small number of marijuana plants under state law starting July 1, 2018.

Read Act 86 as enacted here.

Confused by the language? Check out our pot glossary.

Have questions about what the law means for you? Review our FAQ.

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR File

Chittenden Sen. David Zuckerman has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana in Vermont. But the legislation isn’t likely to pass anytime soon.

Zuckerman’s 44-page bill calls for the taxation and regulation of marijuana, and would essentially have the state treat cannabis the same way it does alcohol.

“It has the potential for economic development in the state, both from the production and sale of marijuana, but also in tourism attraction, and the various jobs affiliated with both of those scenarios,” Zuckerman says.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR/file

To legalize or not to legalize marijuana? That's been the question on many Vermonters' minds of late. To help them answer it, some here have been looking west, to Colorado, where recreational pot has now been legal for a year.

AndrewJohnson / iStock

A team made up of Vermont law enforcement, public officials and community leaders will head to Colorado on Sunday to gather information about that state’s experience with marijuana now that it’s legal there. 

Whether or not Vermont follows suit, it's likely pot-infused edibles will become more common.

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

Legislators say Vermont’s medical marijuana law has by and large been a success. But they’re applying new scrutiny to a form of cannabis that is generating public health concerns in places where marijuana is available legally.

Why? Because smoking isn’t for everyone.

Angela Evancie / VPR

A new study says the biggest issue in the legislative debate over the legalization of marijuana is whether or not for-profit companies will be allowed to sell a variety of marijuana products.

But the "for profit" approach taken by the states of Colorado and Washington isn't the only option available to lawmakers.

Brennan Linsley / AP

Activists and some lawmakers say Vermont should legalize marijuana, as Washington state and Colorado have done. Late last week, a state-commissioned study from the Rand Corporation was released, which delves into the policy questions Vermont would have to decide if it chooses to legalize pot.

A new advisory commission created by Gov. Phil Scott this week will focus on the issue of marijuana legalization in Vermont.
labuda / iStock

A study on marijuana legalization in Vermont released Friday has found that the state could get as much as $75 million in new revenue by taxing and regulating the drug, but it would come with some consequences and other expenses.

A new advisory commission created by Gov. Phil Scott this week will focus on the issue of marijuana legalization in Vermont.
labuda / iStock

Marijuana legalization advocates have been laying the groundwork for a big legislative push in 2015. But Vermont lawmakers don’t seem inclined to follow in the footsteps of Washington and Colorado any time soon.

Earlier this year, Burlington lawyer Carl Lisman quietly registered a rather noteworthy trade name. It’s called “Vermont Cannabis,” and its purpose, according to the paperwork filed at the corporations division at the Vermont Secretary of State, is the “promotion of cannabis products.”

In January, lawmakers will receive a detailed report analyzing many of the issues surrounding the possible legalization of marijuana in the state.

Supporters are hoping that these specific concerns can be addressed if the Legislature wants to move forward with this issue during the 2015 session.

The study will not make recommendations either for or against the legalization of marijuana in Vermont. Instead it will outline a number of policy areas that need to be considered if an effort is made to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Ladybug crawls on a marijuana plant in Seattle on June 25, 2014.
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press File

State officials have been working for months with the RAND Corporation to study the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana in Vermont.

This week, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding took comments from a number of Vermonters all over the state in a televised public hearing.

And the one take-away from the meeting was that whatever the state decides about legalization, somebody's going to be upset.

To hear Laura Subin tell it, the big winners in Colorado's movement toward legalization weren't the first ones you'd think of.

Ted S. Warren / AP

The Shumlin administration wants to talk about weed.

Administration officials announced a public hearing this week as part of their continuing look at marijuana legalization. A hearing on Nov. 12 will “provide Vermonters with the ability to contribute comments for a legislatively-mandated study on the issues involved with possible legalization of marijuana production, distribution and possession in the State of Vermont.”

In the next session of the State Legislature, it's likely a bill to legalize marijuana will be debated.

Beau Kilmer, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, who is working on a report looking at all the issues surrounding legalization discusses some of the topics the report will focus on.

Ted S. Warren / AP

The Shumlin Administration is taking a serious look at the possibility of legalizing marijuana in Vermont. And to look at the pros and cons, the administration has reached an agreement with the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit international research organization, to conduct a thorough investigation of the issue for lawmakers to consider next winter.  

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says a comprehensive study is needed because he expects that lawmakers will want to debate this issue during the 2015 session.

Brennan Linsley / AP

Gov. Peter Shumlin says he supports an effort in Congress to block the federal government from cracking down on state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries. Twenty-two states, including Vermont, have enacted medical marijuana laws in the past few years.

But dispensaries in these states have been under the threat of being closed down by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency because the centers are in violation of federal drug laws.

The number of people who can obtain medical marijuana would increase under a bill that has now passed the Legislature and is on its way to the governor for his signature.

The bill also calls for a study to determine how much money the state could reap in new tax revenue if marijuana is legalized in the future.

Under Vermont’s current medical marijuana law, no more than 1,000 people can be registered to receive marijuana in total from the four dispensaries in the state. Those dispensaries are located in Burlington, Montpelier, Brattleboro and Brandon.

Could the state of Vermont collect millions of dollars in new tax revenue if the sale of marijuana is legalized? A majority of House members want to know the answer to this question.

The marijuana study is part of a larger bill that deals with the operations of the state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries.

Two states have legalized marijuana, Colorado and Washington, and they’ve imposed sizeable taxes on a variety of marijuana products.

This year, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. But some say that doesn’t go far enough and they’d like to see marijuana legalized.

Richard Van Wickler agrees. Why his pro-legalization stance stands out from others is that he’s a 20-year veteran of law enforcement. He serves as prison superintendent for the Cheshire County (NH) Department of Corrections. He speaks for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and he joined VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb.

Kirk Carapezza / VPR

In August, the US Justice Department issued a memo clarifying that it would not sue to block laws in 20 states that legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. Vermont legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011 and the first dispensaries opened this summer. Governor Peter Shumlin and Health Commissioner Harry Chen have both been on the record saying they're open to fully legalizing marijuana in this state at some point in the future.

Washington State Liquor Control Board

Vermont is one of ten states where the The Marijuana Policy Project, a group based in Washington D.C.,  plans to wage a campaign to legalize marijuana by 2017. 

“Vermont has been ahead of the curve for some time, being one of the 20 states that’s approved marijuana for medical use and now a state that has decriminalized.  So the legislature here is certainly well informed about marijuana policy issues,” says Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the group. “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be ahead of the curve as states move towards regulating marijuana.”

Vermont is now the 17th state to get rid of criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Governor Peter Shumlin signed the measure into law Thursday.

The law replaces criminal penalties with civil fines, similar to a traffic ticket, for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish.