Vermont Governor Not Sure About Legal Marijuana Bill

By Tom Angell | May 12, 2017

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) says that this week’s passage of a marijuana legalization bill by the legislature “came as a bit of a surprise” and that he hasn’t yet made up his mind on whether he will let it be enacted into law.

“I’m not philosophically opposed to legalization but I do believe we’ve got to get this right,” he said in a Friday appearance on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition, adding that he is “incredibly concerned about highway safety.” The governor also raised concerns about children’s access to edibles.

The legislation would 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 governor said in the radio interview he has a “libertarian streak in me” and believes that “you should be able to do whatever you want in your own home as long as it doesn’t create any harm for others.”

But, he said, he would prefer that the state take more time to watch how legalization plays out in other states that have already ended prohibition and “learn from them.”

The cannabis legalization bill is not technically on Scott’s desk yet, even though it has been given final approval by lawmakers. It will first undergo a final review by the legislative counsel’s office and then will be officially transmitted to the governor.

Scott said that he has reached out to other governors in the New England region about marijuana issues in an effort to “try and determine a level of impairment” for drivers who have consumed cannabis, adding that “regardless of what happens with this bill, I’m going to continue down this path.”

Once the legislature officially transmits the bill to the governor’s desk, he will have five days to sign or veto it, or allow it to go into law without his signature.

Although the legislation passed the Senate by a veto-proof margin of 20 – 9, the House vote of 79 – 66 was much narrower.

Even if the bill doesn’t get enacted this year, Scott seemed to acknowledge legalization’s inevitability in the radio interview.

“It’s going to happen at some point,” he said.

A poll released in March found that 57 percent of the state’s voters support noncommercial legalization along the lines of what would be allowed under the bill passed by the legislature. It also showed that 54 percent favor a full taxed and regulated system of legal sales akin to the provisions of separate legislation approved by the Senate this year.

Vermont has already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and has a medical cannabis law.

Lawmakers this week also approved legislation to add new qualifying conditions and dispensary locations to the medical marijuana program. Scott has not yet weighed in on that legislation.

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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