Vermont became the 17th state to decriminalize marijuana possession on Thursday. A bill signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) removes criminal penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana or less than five grams of hashish by adults age 21 or older, and imposes civil penalties akin to a traffic ticket with a fine. For those under 21, possession offenses are treated like underage alcohol consumption, and referred to a court diversion program on the first offense.
Decriminalization is one of several ways states are reconsidering drug policy in light of the failed War on Drugs. But while removing criminal penalties addresses some of the most perverse impacts of arrest and imprisonment for low-level nonviolent offenses, it does not address the violence and underground activity that accompany the illegal drug trade. Washington and Colorado‘s legalization measures aim to tackle these issues by providing a legal mechanism for production and distribution, albeit with significantly greater risk of federal prosecution so long as marijuana remains federally illegal.