Vermont governor won't sign marijuana bill, sends it back

The bill was passed by the General Assembly earlier this month before heading to Governor Scott's desk, where he vetoed the fledgling law due to concerns about public safety.

"I'm not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana", Scott said, according to local news outlets. While I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I believe that it is an inevitable part of the future, I chose to return this bill to the Legislature, and offer a path forward that still legalizes personal possession, while taking a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves to a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system.

Scott said he was "offering a path forward": He wants the legislature to toughen penalties for stoned driving and for providing marijuana to children. And he wanted even harsher punishments for people committing multiple offences at once.

"We can all work together on this issue in a thoughtful and responsible way", Scott said. He said he was particularly anxious about the threat of stoned drivers and about children getting access to pot. He suggested those might include criminalizing smoking marijuana in vehicles occupied by children.

A New York Times editorial urged Scott to sign the bill on Wednesday morning, writing that a veto would encourage Vermont residents to drive across the border to ME and MA, where marijuana was recently legalized, or rely on black market dealers.

The Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana is a broad coalition of citizens, organizations, and businesses working to end marijuana prohibition in Vermont and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed.

Eight other states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana.

He also wants the commission to take a year before making their final recommendations. I don't think we have enough information at this point.

In Vermont, the bill's journey through the legislature shows the variety of approaches that states are considering.

Activists weren't happy about the veto, of course. The governor's office has been flooded with calls and email messages, mostly from proponents urging him to sign the bill.

If Vermont does legalize marijuana, it will become the third New England state and ninth state overall with legal recreational marijuana. And they'll work some things out. Twenty-nine states, including Vermont in 2004, and D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

The measure would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and over, and it would have permitted home cultivation of up to two mature plants and four immature plants.

The lobbying came after Wal-Mart, Target, Publix and ABC all gave generously to both major parties and elected officials during the 2016 campaign and in the lead-up to the legislative session. It would have been the first state to legalize cannabis by vote of a state legislative body, instead of by voter referendum. The House passed the bill on a 79-66 vote, far short of the 100 votes needed to override in the 150-member chamber.

Simon continues; "Despite the veto, this is a huge leap forward".

The bill as written would make possessing a small amount of marijuana legal by July 2018. "Lawmakers have an opportunity to address the governor's concerns and pass a revised bill this summer, and we are excited about its prospects".

  • Joanne Flowers