Recreational pot gains legislative ground in Vermont and Michigan

Bills have been introduced in both states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Neither is a shoe-in just yet, but if passed, these could become the first states to legalize marijuana through the legislature rather than a public vote.

Brennan Linsley/AP/File
Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at a dispensary in Denver, Dec. 27, 2013. Vermont and Michigan lawmakers have proposed bills to legalize recreational marijuana use in their states.

Lawmakers in Michigan and Vermont have introduced legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the latest states to reconsider the drug’s long-time prohibition.

Marijuana reform is furthest along in Vermont, where the state Senate passed a legalization bill earlier this week in a 17-12 vote. The bill will next go to the House of Representatives for debate and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he supports it. 

In Michigan, state Sen. Coleman Young II (D) introduced similar legislation on Thursday in a move he said would free up police to “focus on violent and property crimes.’’

He explained that the "non-medical marijuana code" would regulate and tax marijuana, generating revenue for education and other public services.

If both bills pass, Vermont and Michigan would become the first states to legalize marijuana through the legislature. In the four states where pot is already legal – Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska – and Washington D.C., legalization came through a general election vote.

While ballot proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use in Michigan have been announced, it's uncertain if any will make it to a public vote.

The Michigan bill would allow state residents to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and five marijuana plants. Non-residents would be limited to a half-ounce. The bill would regulate growing facilities, dispensaries, and "marijuana lounges" where people could consume pot-infused food. Smoking marijuana in public would not be allowed and violators could be fined $100 under the proposal.

The Vermont bill would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana begining in 2018. It would also allow state-licensed pot growing facilities and retail stores, but it would not legalize edible pot products or home-growing marijuana, though both remain legal for medical purposes.

The effects of legal pot in Colorado, the first state to legalize the drug for recreational use, have been mixed. While legalization has brought in more than $150 million in tax revenue since 2014, providing the state with a revenue surplus, various health reports have raised concerns.

A new study found that tourists to Colorado who use pot end up in the emergency room at rates far higher than residents. The rate of emergency-room visits possibly related to marijuana doubled among out-of-state residents in the first year of recreational pot sales, according to the study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommended a ban on edibles in the fall of 2014 because of a growing number of reported injuries, but the idea was dropped in the face of industry opposition.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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