Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has signed a bill allowing the possession and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
Vermont's Republican governor, Phil Scott, signed a bill legalizing marijuana in the state on Monday.
The move makes Vermont the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislature, rather than a ballot initiative. The previous eight states to legalize marijuana, along with Washington D.C., have all done so through a statewide vote.
The Vermont Senate approved the measure, which allows the possession and recreational consumption of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, earlier this month. The move came as a sharp rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that the Justice Department will go back to enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized marijuana. (The US government considers cannabis an illegal, Schedule I substance.)
Vermont's new bill is limited in scope — it doesn't establish a market for production and sale of the drug.
"I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children," Scott added.
The new policy will go into effect on July 1. Some lawmakers may press to establish a market for the sale of marijuana after that.
Sessions is a longtime opponent of legalized marijuana. The Attorney General rescinded the Obama-era directive known as the Cole Memo, which instructed the Justice Department to place a low priority on enforcing federal marijuana laws against businesses and organizations that comply with state laws.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on Vermont's bill.
Activists in favor of marijuana legalization are cheering the state's move.
"Governor Scott should be recognized for helping to provide Vermonters with a path forward at a time when many elected officials elsewhere are clinging to the failed policies of the past," Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said in a statement.
Even activists on the other side of the debate praised Vermont's measured approach to legalization.
Smarter Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group, said in a statement that although the group "opposes any legalization measure that will inevitably increase use rate among our youth and make our roads more dangerous, we recognize that since H.511 stops short of legalizing sales, it can be seen as a compromise."
Approximately 64% of Americans currently support cannabis legalization, according to a recent Gallup poll. As of March 2017, 57% of Vermonters were in favor of it.
The House of Representatives in New Hampshire – Vermont's neighbor — passed a similar marijuana legalization bill earlier this month.