Vermont will become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through a legislative act, once Gov. Phil Scott signs the bill into law.
The Vermont Senate just approved a measure allowing the possession and recreational consumption of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The move comes as a sharp rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent announcement that the Justice Department will go back to enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized the drug. (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. But it will make Vermont the first state to legalize marijuana via the legislature, rather than through a ballot initiative, provided Republican Gov. Phil Scott signs the bill. The previous eight states to legalize marijuana, along with Washington D.C., have all done so through a statewide vote.
After he signs, the new policy would 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 The Attorney General rescinded the Obama-era directive known as the Cole Memo, which instructed the Justice Department to place a low priority on enforcing federal marijuana laws against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 immediately respond to a request for comment on Vermont's bill.
Activists in favor of marijuana legalization are cheering the state's move, however.
"While prohibitionists like Attorney General Jeff Sessions desperately try to force our country to return to the dark ages, his flailing seems to be for naught," Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement. "The American people have made their position clear."
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.
New Hampshire's House – Vermont's direct neighbor — passed a similar marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday.