In the announcement of his veto at a Montpelier press conference today, Gov. Phil Scott attempted to make clear his refusal to sign the bill into law wasn’t because he was an anti-pot guy “philosophically.”
Nevertheless, he takes his place in history as the first U.S. governor to ever veto the full removal of criminal and civil penalties for recreational adult cannabis possession, use and cultivation as passed by his state’s legislature.
His stance also puts him directly in contradiction with the majority of voters in his state according to Vermont Public Radio, which commissioned the Castleton Polling Institute on the subject: Their findings showed 55 percent of respondents supported legalization, 32 percent are opposed and the remainder are not sure or have no opinion.
The bill is far from dead, with Scott laying out what he called his “path forward.”
It consists of three major critiques. First, Scott believes — in its attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol — this bill appears to weaken penalties for dispensing marijuana to minors. He wants it rewritten to make clear the existing penalties remain unchanged and said, “weakening these protections and penalties should be totally unacceptable to even the most ardent legalization advocates.”
His second concern is the lack of penalties in certain scenarios, “I’m asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving and usage around minors.”
“We must acknowledge that marijuana is not alcohol and it is not tobacco,” he said. “How we protect children from the new classification of this substance is incredibly important.”
He didn’t elaborate on what that meant, but between 2003 and 2012 there were 234 drunk driving fatalities in the state according to the Center for Disease Control.
His final concerns are based on the scale and scope of the regulatory commission. He wants the membership expanded to include various public health, safety and tax agencies, “in order to be taken seriously.”
He also wants the commission to be charged with determining outcomes such as impairment thresholds for operating motor vehicles. The commission will also be charged with figuring out how much this will all cost.
He also wants the commission to take a year before making their final recommendations.
When asked if he thinks the legislature can make it happen by June 21, Scott replied, “I think there is a willingness to come to some compromise.”
Legalization supporters like Matt Simon, who leads New England efforts for the Marijuana Policy Project, are keeping hope alive.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Simon also made it clear, “despite the veto, this is a huge leap forward.”
“The passage of S.B. 22 demonstrates most members of both legislative chambers are ready to move forward with making marijuana legal for adults,” he said. “Lawmakers have an opportunity to address the governor’s concerns and pass a revised bill this summer, and we are excited about its prospects.”
Marijuana Majority Chairman, Tom Angell, was following the Governor’s press conference live.
“While the news today is disappointing, it likely just amounts to a short delay. The governor’s comments make clear that legalization of marijuana in Vermont is only a matter of time — and some small tweaks to the bill,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that lawmakers will make the changes he’s asking for, and that next month the state will become the first in history to end cannabis prohibition by an act of the legislature… The fact that a bill even ended up on the governor’s desk signals a new phase of the marijuana legalization movement.”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri pointed out it wasn’t just the will of the lawmakers that Scott rejected with his decision today.
“[He] also [rejected] the will of the majority of Vermont voters who support ending criminal penalties for those adults who consume cannabis responsibly,” he said. “This change would have saved taxpayers money, allowed police, the courts, and community groups to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes and the opioid epidemic that is ravaging Vermont.”
We should know in the next month the fate of cannabis legalization in Vermont this year.
TELL US, are you optimistic about Vermont’s prospects for legalization?