Vermont residents will have to put off their dream of lighting up a legal joint for a bit longer after the state’s governor vetoed a bill legalizing small amounts recreational marijuana, and instead sent it back to legislators for some revisions.
At a press conference today, Gov. Phil Scott said lawmakers have some work to do on S. 22, but he’s open to revisiting the bill, perhaps during the government’s July’s veto session.
“I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction,” Scott said in prepared remarks. “However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.”
For example, he takes issue with the fact that as the bill is currently written, legislation for a regulated system would be introduced before the personal possession and cultivation laws have even changed. In his view, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission should take more time to complete its work on this “complex” issue.
“Given the gravity of this policy change, I would like to see the Commission have at least a year before making final recommendations,” he said.
Among the recommendations he says he’ll provide for lawmakers: language that makes it clear that existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors and on school grounds remain unchanged; tweaks that would more aggressively penalize consumption while driving and in the presence of minors; and a broader membership for the Commission that includes representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse prevention and treatment community.
“If the Legislature agrees to make the changes I am seeking… we can move this discussion forward in a way that ensures the public health and safety of our communities and our children continues to come first,” Scott said.
Pro-legalization proponents are disappointed in Scott’s decision, naturally.
“I am sad to see the Governor disregard the will of most Vermonters and reduce individual liberties in our state,” Lt. Governor David Zuckerman said in a statement. “Prohibition has failed and causes approximately 100,000 Vermonters to be labeled lawbreakers. 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. For the Governor to veto this bill over the makeup of the commission seems very short sighted.”
Others expressed optimism over Scott’s offer to work with legislators.
“Despite the veto, this is a huge leap forward,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “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.”