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Vermont governor signs marijuana legalization bill

Vermont governor signs marijuana legalization bill
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Vermont will become the latest state to allow the possession of marijuana for recreational purposes under a new measure signed into law Monday by Gov. Phil Scott (R).

The measure brings the number of states where recreational marijuana is legal to seven. But the Vermont bill is notable because it is the first time a state legislature has voted to legalize the drug.

The other eight states where adults may legally possess and consume marijuana — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, California, Massachusetts and Maine — all arrived at legalization through voter-approved ballot measures.

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Massachusetts and Maine will implement retail sales of legal marijuana later this year after voters passed ballot initiatives in 2016. The Vermont law takes effect on July 1, without a retail market.

“This is a milestone in the evolving politics of marijuana,” said Tom Angell, a legalization advocate who writes the Marijuana Moment newsletter.

Scott, a Republican serving his first term, vetoed a legalization bill passed by the Democratic-led state legislature last year. He cited concerns over how it was written, though he pledged to work with the legislature to address those issues before this year’s session kicked off.

The Vermont law does not go as far with legalization measures in other states. It allows adults over the age of 21 to possess an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to two of their own plants at home.

But it does not allow legal sales of marijuana, something Scott said he would veto if the legislature tried to go farther without first adding significant elements to combat young people using marijuana and to bolster traffic safety.

Scott said he signed the bill “with mixed emotions.”

In a letter to legislators, Scott said his veto of the earlier bill made clear “my reservations about a commercial system which depends on profit motive and market-driven demand for its growth.”

Scott said he would veto any additional efforts to loosen restrictions or implement a legal retail market until legislators addressed highway safety, education efforts and prevention of youth consumption.

Kevin Sabet, who heads the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the fact that the law does not allow a retail market represents a setback to the legalization movement.

“By signing this, the Governor essentially killed any chance of full legalization,” Sabet told The Hill in an email. “In so many ways, this is a big setback for the pot industry. Vermont will be off-limits to them for the foreseeable future.”

The state legislature passed the measure by wide margins last week.

At least two other state legislatures are considering steps toward legalizing marijuana. Rhode Island’s legislature is likely to take up a bill later this year, though whether it has sufficient support to pass is unclear. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has said he supports legalizing marijuana, though Democrats in the state legislature have raised their own objections.

Updated Jan. 23 at 9:54 a.m. to clarify Maine's marijuana laws