People in Vermont can now be caught with marijuana and avoid all criminal penalties, unless they are in possession of more than an ounce of the drug.
Vermont’s new law, which was passed a month ago, makes people in possession of marijuana pay fines for their offenses instead of facing criminal penalties, according to the Huffington Post.
Vermont is the 17th state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, if it is held in small amounts. Possessing more than an ounce of cannabis or growing marijuana plants remains illegal in the state, according to the Global Dispatch.
“This change just makes common sense,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who signed the bill into law. “Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana.”
The size of the civil fines offenders must pay will increase depending on the number of times they are caught in possession.
“This is a much-needed step forward toward a more sensible marijuana policy,” said Matt Simon, who is part of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Nobody should be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
The decriminalization law comes after a report released last month suggested Vermont’s criminal justice system targets African Americans more so than it does whites. African Americans in Vermont were more likely to be arrested for marijuana charges than were whites, even though blacks and whites used the drug at similar rates.
“Marijuana prohibition is a failed policy,” Simon said. “And it is time for Vermont to explore the possibility of adopting a new approach.”