Vermont considers decriminalizing all drugs

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Vermont’s House Judiciary Committee, which legalized cannabis in 2020, is considering three proposed reforms to the state’s drug laws, including one that seeks to decriminalize possession of personal amounts of controlled substances.

The bill seeks to make possession of a small amount of drugs a criminal offense punishable by a $50 fine and to allow offenders to be screened for substance abuse disorders and be exempt from payment of fees. The proposal is supported by more than 40 sponsors.

The bill provides for the creation of a Drug Use Standards Advisory Council, which would include experts in harm reduction, substance use disorders, treatment and drug law, as well as three representatives consumers “who have lived experience of drug use and drug use practices,” the report says. The council would be responsible for determining what constitutes a personal use supply of each decriminalized drug.

Another bill being considered by the Commission would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and cacti, while a third bill would turn many drug offenses into misdemeanors.

Andrew Seaman, Medical Director of Vermont for Better Life Partners, an addiction treatment organization, said Vermont is “probably one of the best candidates” to launch such a program “without additional resources,” pointing to the state’s success in treating addiction disorders with his program Hub & Spoke.

The system Hub & Spoke is a statewide partnership of clinicians and treatment centers that provide medication-assisted therapy to opioid-dependent Vermonters.

“The Hub (treatment centre) and Spoke (physician-led team) ensure that each patient’s care is effective and coordinated, and is supported by nurses and counselors who strive to put each person in relationship with community support services,” reads the Vermont Department of Health website that describes the program.

The three bills are awaiting a vote in committee. Only one US state, Oregon, has decriminalized possession of low-level drugs. This reform had been approved by the voters and not by the Legislative Assembly.

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