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As July 1 Approaches, Vermont State Police Prepare For New Marijuana Law

t. John Flannigan, left, and Capt. James Whitcomb sit at a table looking at each other in front of recording equipment.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Lt. John Flannigan, left, and Capt. Jim Whitcomb, both of the Vermont State Police, discuss the state's new cannabis law at a meeting in Waterbury Tuesday.

Starting on July 1, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana under Vermont state law — and that will bring about changes in how the police interact with motorists.

The Vermont State Police has issued a new training bulletin to help troopers navigate the changes to the law.

During a meeting with reporters Tuesday at the Vermont State Police headquarters in Waterbury, Capt. Jim Whitcomb said the new manual was written with an understanding that the law will likely change over time.

"This training bulletin was created knowing that we're going to reconvene,” Whitcomb said. “We're always going to learn and take new case law and apply that to assist our troopers.”

A photograph of the first page of a Vermont State Police training bulletin.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
A new training bulletin spells out the changes Vermont State Police troopers need to aware of as Vermont's new marijuana law goes into effect on July 1. You can read the bulletin here:

Whitcomb said the new law forces operational changes within the department, and the new manual was written to make sure troopers were prepared and aware of the new law.

While the law against driving impaired doesn’t change, Whitcomb said there are new limits on what the police can do during a traffic stop.

“The mere smell of marijuana in a vehicle does not constitute probable cause to conduct a search of the vehicle,” Whitcomb said.

"This training bulletin was created knowing that we're going to reconvene. We're always going to learn and take new case law and apply that to assist our troopers." — Capt. Jim Whitcomb, Vermont State Police

Vermont did not adopt a standardized method for measuring whether a motorist is under the influence of cannabis, and Whitcomb said state police are receiving extra training in identifying impaired drivers.

If a trooper believes that someone is under the influence of cannabis during a traffic stop, a "drug recognition expert" can be called. If the expert agrees the driver is impaired, then the trooper can take the driver in and seek a search warrant to obtain a blood test.

Whitcomb said there are about 50 drug recognition experts across the state, and Whitcomb also said troopers are receiving extra training to recognize when people are driving under the influence.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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