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Vermont’s state legislature passed a bill on January 22, 2018 that legalizes possession of marijuana for recreational use. The law restricts marijuana possession to adults over 21 years, and allows possession of one ounce of recreational marijuana with no criminal or civil penalties. Possession of more than one ounce but less than two ounces is subject to civil penalty, and over two ounces is a criminal offense. Sale of marijuana is not legalized under this act.
Vermont’s law is the first recreational marijuana law passed by a state legislature rather than by a voter initiative. In recent years, state law across the country has trended towards looser and looser marijuana regulation. New Hampshire’s House of Representatives passed a bill very similar to Vermont’s recreational marijuana bill in the same week, though it has not yet passed the New Hampshire Senate.
The Vermont marijuana decriminalization law provides exceptions for certain locations or circumstances; for example, a landlord is permitted under the law to prohibit marijuana possession and use through a lease agreement if he or she so desires. Employers are not provided the specific exemption that landlords are, and are not mentioned in any capacity in Vermont’s law. This does not mean that employers cannot prohibit marijuana in the workplace or cannot prohibit employees from engaging in recreational marijuana use, but it is interesting to note that the Vermont lawmakers did not choose to craft legislative protections for employers. This shift towards the removal of employer protections for drug and alcohol testing has been trending across the nation, and will prove detrimental to safe workplaces.
For the time being, workplace drug testing is not affected by the Vermont recreational marijuana law. Employers may still test and discipline employees for recreational marijuana use. However, trending across the nation are more protections for marijuana users and fewer safeguards for employers seeking a marijuana-free workplace. The passage of this recreational marijuana law in Vermont and the legislature’s refusal to lay out protections for drug-free workplaces may signal further changes in this state in coming months and years.
Conversely, in a peculiar coincidence, the very day that the Vermont House of Representatives passed the recreational marijuana bill, the Department of Justice signaled its intention to take a tougher stance on marijuana crime at the federal level. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his office was rescinding an Obama-era policy that deprioritized criminal enforcement of marijuana crime in states that had passed legalization measures, just hours prior to Vermont’s House passage of the marijuana bill. It is currently unclear what kind of enforcement of federal marijuana laws the Department of Justice intends to take.