A marijuana legalization bill is headed to the desk of Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R).
If the bill is enacted into law, the state will become the first in the U.S. to end cannabis prohibition via an act of lawmakers rather than by voters at the ballot box.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 79 -66 to approve legislation to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and allow people to grow two mature plants and four seedlings at home, effective July 2018. The proposal would also create a commission to study legalizing and taxing marijuana and issue recommendations to the legislature later this year.
The Senate passed the measure last week by a vote of 20-9. Last month, that body also approved a separate measure that would legalize and regulate marijuana commerce in the state. That broader bill is still pending in the House.
Scott, who was inaugurated this year, is not necessarily opposed to cannabis law reform but would prefer that Vermont wait to get more experience from other states that have already ended prohibition, emphasizing he is not willing to sign any legalization bill until the state has in place better systems to detect and prevent impaired driving
“I don’t believe this is a priority for Vermont,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I believe that what we should be doing is trying to find ways to protect those on our highways, deliver a level of impairment that is consistent throughout the Northeast, as well as to address the edibles for our kids, before we move forward with legalization. Having said that, I’m going to review the bill as it’s passed.”
The governor added, “I’ll take a look at the bill, but I’ve been pretty clear that I’d like to see some improvements to the bill to make sure that we have a structure in place that provides safety to Vermonters. I don’t see anything that really focuses on the highway impairment issue.”
It is unclear what he will do now that lawmakers have forced the issue to his desk.
Under the state constitution, the governor can either sign or veto the bill, or allow it to go into law without his signature.
Earlier this month, the House voted 75-71 to approve a similar marijuana legalization bill that included the possession and homegrow provisions but which did not have the study commission language attached.
Vermont has already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and has a medical cannabis program.
Under the legislation headed to the governor’s desk, a nine-member Marijuana Regulatory Commission would spend the summer and early fall developing proposed legislation that “establishes a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market that, when compared to the current illegal marijuana market, increases public safety and reduces harm to public health.”
Its recommendations would be due by November 1, in advance of the convening of the second half of the legislature’s biennium in January.
A poll released in March found that 57 percent of the state’s voters support noncommercial legalization and that 54 percent favor a full taxed and regulated system of legal sales.