Gov. Phil Scott Offers ‘Path Forward’ for Compromise During Summer Veto Session
Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday announced he is vetoing a bill that would have made marijuana legal for adults in Vermont, but offered a “path forward” for passing it later this year. He specified a handful of changes that would need to be made for him to support the measure and said he believes the legislature has time to incorporate them and enact a revised version during the summer veto session.
The governor said he wasn’t “philosophically opposed” to cannabis. “As I look at this matter, I generally look at it through the lens of a libertarian,” Scott said. “With that libertarian streak in me, I believe that what individuals do behind closed doors, and on their own personal property, is their choice, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact the health and safety of others.”
We must interject here, Scott’s avowed “libertarian streak” certainly seems to be pretty damn narrow, since he’s insisting on the state regulating cannabis even more heavy-handedly than S. 22 would have done.“That’s why I previously supported, and continue to support, medical marijuana laws and decriminalization,” Gov. Scott said. “I know we cannot ignore the fact that it is a widely consumed substance. Many states, and an entire nation to our north, are in the process of making it legal.”
“I have made it clear since the campaign and throughout this session, I’m not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana,” he said, “and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction. However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward. We must get this right.
“Let the science inform any policy around this decision,” the Governor said. “Learn from the experience of other states, and take whatever time is required to do so. In my view, policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters, and those who visit us, to address health, safety, prevention, and education questions before committing the state to a specific timeline for moving forward.“More specifically, as I have said repeatedly, throughout the campaign and this session, we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our highways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.
“From my vantage point, S. 22 does not yet adequately address these questions,” Scott said. “Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what health, safety, and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult use marijuana market.
“I will be providing the Legislature with recommended changes,” Scott said. “And to be clear, if they willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill, passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.”Scott objected in particular to sections of the bill which equate marijuana with alcohol; he said the bill appears to weaken penalties for the sale of cannabis to minors and on school grounds. He wanted those penalties unchanged. He called relaxing them “totally unacceptable.”
The Governor also wants “more aggressive penalties” for using marijuana while driving, or in the presence of minors. He really hates the part of the bill that would equalize the fine people get for being caught smoking marijuana with a child in the vehicle, with being caught with an open container of alcohol with a child in the vehicle.
“Alcohol is not marijuana,” the Governor said. And that’s true, but in the opposite direction of what Scott seems to believe; it’s a lot safer.
Lt. Governor: ‘The Governor ignored the will of the voters’
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman denounced Scott’s decision, saying the Governor ignored the will of the voters, reports Neliana Ferraro at VPR.
“Prohibition has failed and causes approximately 100,000 Vermonters to be labeled lawbreakers,” Zuckerman said. “Vermont is now lagging behind other states in the region and is missing opportunities to capture revenue from an underground market that would allow us to address highway safety, drug education and treatment, and other needed state investments to reduce the temptation of drug use.”
S. 22 would have eliminated the penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and home cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants by adults 21 and older beginning in July 2018. It also would have created a study commission to develop legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.
First Legalization Bill Ever Passed By A State Legislature
The bill was approved by the Senate (20-9) and House of Representatives (79-66) earlier this month, marking the first time a state legislature has ever passed a bill to make marijuana legal for adults.
Fifty-seven percent of Vermont voters support allowing adults 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana, according to a statewide survey of 755 registered voters conducted in March by Public Policy Polling. Only 39 percent are opposed.
Eight states have enacted laws legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use, all through ballot initiatives. In Washington, D.C., voters approved a ballot initiative making personal possession and home cultivation legal for adults 21 and older. Vermont would be the first state to make marijuana legal for adults via its legislative body rather than a ballot initiative.“We are disappointed by the governor’s decision to veto this widely supported legislation, but we are very encouraged by the governor’s offer to work with legislators to pass a legalization bill during the summer veto session,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Most Vermonters want to end marijuana prohibition, and it is critical that the legislature respond by passing a revised legalization bill this summer. Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and there is no good reason to continue treating responsible adult consumers like criminals.
“Despite the veto, this is a huge leap forward,” Simon said. “The passage of S. 22 demonstrates most members of both legislative chambers are ready to move forward with making marijuana legal for adults. Lawmakers have an opportunity to address the governor’s concerns and pass a revised bill this summer, and we are excited about its prospects.”“It is disappointing that Gov. Scott would not only defy the will of of state legislators, but also the will of the majority of Vermont voters who support ending criminal penalties for those adults who consume cannabis responsibly,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal.
“Minor marijuana possession offenders should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it,” Strekal said. “Rather than looking to the future, Gov. Scott seems intent on repeating the failures of the past.”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. For more information, visit http://www.RegulateVermont.org