Vermont's legislature on Monday voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making the New England state the 17th to relax restrictions on the drug.

The House of Representatives followed an earlier vote in the state Senate in favor of the measure and Governor Peter Shumlin, a strong supporter, was expected to sign it into law.

The law would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana and also small quantities of hashish, although a civil penalty similar to a traffic fine would still be imposed.

"Decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana will allow courts and law enforcement to focus limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive drugs that tear apart families and communities," Shumlin said on Instagram and Twitter.

He also thanked the legislature, saying "Vermonters support sensible drug policies."

In April, a Pew Research Center opinion poll indicated that for the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans -- 52 percent -- think marijuana should be legalized.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-marijuana reform group, said Vermont was now the 17th state to decriminalize or outright legalize what it says is a soft drug.

"The days of criminalizing people simply for using a substance less harmful than alcohol are coming to an end," project analyst Matt Simon said.

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[Man smoking marijuana via Shutterstock]