Vermont Legalization Deal Likely This Week

Vermont came within a stroke of Gov. Rick Scott’s pen of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through the regular old elected lawmaking process, rather than put the hard and dirty work to voters.

Despite a disappointing gubernatorial veto, Vermont’s historic legalization bill could still move forward — this week.


Vermont came within a stroke of Gov. Rick Scott’s pen of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through the regular old legislative process, rather than put the hard and dirty work to voters.

But even though the state Legislature passed a legalization bill with broad support, and even though the Republican admitted to not being “philosophically opposed” to allowing adults 21 and over to use cannabis legally, on May 24, Scott scuttled the effort with a veto.

Disappointed cannabis advocates were nonetheless confident that the setback was temporary. Even Scott said that there was a clear “path forward,” if some minor concerns were address. And on Friday, it appeared that the delay would be less than a month.

According to Vermont Public Radio, Scott expressed confidence that a compromise plan to legalize marijuana in Vermont could be reached as soon as Wednesday.

For the most part, the plan to legalize in Vermont is very similar to legalization schemes approved by voters in eight other states. As the Vermont Press Bureau reported, the plan as it stands now would “legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana and the cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants beginning on July 1, 2018.”

It would also set up a state commission tasked with figuring out how to roll out regulated commercial sales at an unspecified date.

Where the Vermont Legislature’s plan differs is on penalties for minors using the drug and for motorists driving under the influence of cannabis. While several states have imposed strict limits for determining marijuana intoxication, similar to blood-alcohol counts, resulting “marijuana DUIs” have also been successfully challenged in court.

Scott wants any resulting commission to determine “an impairment level for operating a vehicle, some kind of impairment testing mechanism, an education and prevention strategy for youth and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.”

Negotiations on the bill continued Friday.

These all seem like secondary points that could be cleared up once the grand vision — legalizing marijuana, as nearby Maine and neighboring Massachusetts have done — has been realized. But the excess caution (and resulting delay) should not take away from the moment’s significance: A state Legislature passed a legalization bill and a Republican governor is agreeing, on principle, and quibbling only on details.

Considering Massachusetts’s political establishment campaigned against a similar bill less than a year ago, this political process is significant progress.

TELL US, are you concerned about “public safety” impacts from legalization?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

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