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74-year-old first Vermont man to be fined, not jailed, for pot growing

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - Vermont police fined a 74-year-old man $200 for marijuana he grew from seed at his apartment, in the state's first civil penalty under a new law that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of pot.

William Reynolds, of Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, was ticketed last week after police followed up on a complaint about "a suspicious plant" at the apartment complex where Reynolds lived in the town about 30 miles northeast of Montpelier, Detective Daniele Kostruba said on Tuesday.

"I did locate the plant," she said. "It definitely looked like a marijuana plant."

Reynolds told police he had grown the 2.5-foot plant from a seed he had had for years, and that he was "just experimenting," according to Kostruba.

She said it was the first penalty of its kind levied in Vermont since Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill in June that made the state the 17th in the United States to decriminalize possession of less than 1 ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana.

Under the law, possession of small amounts is treated as a civil penalty with fines akin to a traffic ticket. Previously, possession of up to two ounces (56.6 grams) of pot was a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years for later offenses.

Vermont's law is similar to those in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island, where non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil offense.

Civil penalties for marijuana possession have been imposed in states such as Massachusetts and Nebraska, according to local media reports.

Vermont has not gone as far as Washington and Colorado, where laws allowing the recreational use of marijuana by adults passed last year.

Last week, the Obama administration allowed those states to move forward with the new laws as part of a shift toward giving U.S. states wide leeway to experiment with pot legalization, a move marijuana advocates hailed as historic.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)

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