Vermont may soon become the 10th state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
The bill, approved by the state legislature, would eliminate all penalties for possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and possession of up to six marijuana plants. It would not allow marijuana sales, but it would create a commission that would study how to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana sales — potentially as soon as 2018.
The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Scott (R), who will decide whether to sign the measure into law.
If he approves, Vermont would join several states that have legalized pot since 2012, when Colorado and Washington state became the first two to allow the drug for recreational purposes. Since then, six other states, from Massachusetts to California, and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana — although DC, like Vermont’s bill and unlike the other states to legalize so far, does not allow recreational pot sales.
Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.
Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will enable a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires in large part on some of the heaviest consumers of their products. This could lead to far more people using pot, even if it leads to negative health consequences.
Vermont, for its part, has taken a cautious step forward: Its bill doesn’t allow a big pot industry, instead leaving it to a commission to study the possibility. But it’s at least working to eliminate the risk that adults 21 and older will face any penalties for the simple possession of marijuana.
For more on the debate over marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.