ACLU of Vermont Statement on Passage of S.22

ACLU urges Governor Scott to sign historic criminal justice reform legislation


May 11, 2017

MONTPELIER, VT—The ACLU of Vermont has issued the following statement following the passage of S.22, the first-ever marijuana legalization bill to be passed by a state legislature:

ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Jay Diaz: “The ACLU of Vermont applauds the legislature for passing S. 22. This historic legislation is a major step towards meaningful and long overdue criminal justice reform and it could mark a critical turn in the failed war on drugs in Vermont.”

S. 22 eliminates criminal penalties for adult possession of marijuana and establishes a framework for moving towards a system of taxation and regulation. The bill was approved by the Vermont legislature on Wednesday and now goes to Governor Scott’s desk. A majority of Vermonters support decriminalizing marijuana possession, with 89% of those being strongly supportive. The Governor has not indicated whether or not he will sign the bill.

ACLU of Vermont policy director Chloé White: “It’s important that people understand the facts about marijuana legalization. The benefits include mitigating pronounced racial disparities in our criminal justice system, reducing collateral consequences of drug-related criminal records, positively impacting public health and safety, and creating savings for taxpayers.

“Studies have shown profound racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal justice system are exacerbated by the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws, and over 4,000 Vermonters have paid close to $1 million in fines for possessing under one ounce of marijuana since 2013.

“Further, decades of studies provide no evidence that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’ or that regulating it will lead to an increase in drug use. To the contrary, recent studies have shown that access to marijuana may decrease opioid fatalities. When marijuana possession is regulated, the market for underground sales of all drugs is significantly reduced.

“It’s also critical to recognize that Vermont already has—and is using—the tools to detect and deter impaired driving. Vermont has regularly increased the number of Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) certified officers on the roads, improving road safety with better trained officers.”

Voters in Massachusetts and Maine recently approved the taxation and regulation of marijuana, and Canada will soon follow suit. Tens of millions of dollars in revenue and tourist dollars are at stake—a 2015 study by the RAND Corporation found that by taxing and regulating marijuana sales, Vermont could generate anywhere from $20-$75 million in annual revenues.

ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall: “Legalization is long overdue, and it could not come at a more critical time. Just this week, the Trump administration signaled its intention to ramp up prosecutions of low-level drug offenses, doubling down on failed War on Drugs policies and reversing bipartisan efforts on criminal justice reform. Governor Scott has the opportunity to define himself in opposition to Trump’s backwards agenda. The ACLU of Vermont and our supporters urge the Governor to look at the facts and support these historic reforms.”

The ACLU of Vermont’s policy brief on marijuana legalization is available here: