In Era of Legal Pot, Marijuana Remains Illegal on Vermont’s Lake Champlain

The U.S. Coast Guard says it will continue to enforce federal laws on Lake Champlain

Between the anticipated heat wave and the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, public safety officials expect one of the busiest stretches of the year on the region’s waterways.

And with rules around marijuana possession loosening this weekend in Vermont, members of law enforcement are curious if they’ll see potential changes in behavior on the water.

“We have a feeling that it’s coming,” said Petty Officer First Class Jason Balmer of the U.S. Coast Guard, describing a possible increase in marijuana use on Lake Champlain. “I think recreational use of marijuana is pretty common throughout the state and the U.S., so we only assume it’s coming on the water—but that’s yet to be seen.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is reminding people Lake Champlain is a federal waterway, shared between Vermont, New York, and Canada, so Vermont’s new, looser attitude toward marijuana does not apply out on the lake.

“Being that it’s still against federal law to have it if we encounter it out on the water, we will seize it and issue a fine,” Balmer warned.

Balmer said right now, marijuana crimes on the lake are rare, with only a handful of possession cases in recent years.

Starting July 1, criminal penalties will be removed in Vermont for possession of personal amounts of recreational marijuana.

People 21 and up will be able to possess an ounce or less of pot and grow a few plants at home, with sales of marijuana remaining illegal.

Vermont State Police have said they expect to stay nimble, anticipating having to continually consider new approaches in this changing era of marijuana use.

Off the shores of South Hero on Lake Champlain Friday, Lt. Dan Begiebing of the Vermont State Police Marine Unit was looking out for risks on the water.

His agency is part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign, working through Independence Day to underline the importance of boating sober, wearing a life jacket, and taking boater education courses.

“The water’s a great place to be, but something bad can happen in a matter of seconds,” Begiebing cautioned.

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