Despite Cannabis Veto, Vermont On Fast Track Towards Legalization

By Kyle Swartz

May 26, 2017

The Vermont legalization movement appeared to suffer a setback last week when Governor Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would have allowed recreational pot.

Not necessarily. Despite the decision by Gov. Scott, a Republican, Vermont remains very likely to legalize in the near future — perhaps even later this year.

The vetoed bill was the first in the nation approved by state legislature. All states with recreational pot have passed their laws only through voter referendum. Which is one reason why last week’s loss is still a big win for cannabis supporters. It set important precedent: legislators can shepherd forward progressive pot laws as effectively as voters.

And Gov. Scott hardly vetoed the bill with condemnation. Rather, he pointed towards three areas where he believed the bill could be improved, and welcomed bipartisan efforts to improve the measure for a better version of Vermont legalization.

Motivating Gov. Scott’s veto were modern marijuana issues that challenge cannabis regulators nationwide. The governor wanted greater consequences for anyone who sells cannabis to minors, and also for adults who consume in the presence of minors. He also sought tougher penalties for people caught operating motor vehicles while stoned.

Moreover, he wanted to expand the state commission that the bill would have established to study effective tax and regulation procedures from legal states.

Which are all valid concerns in today’s world of legal cannabis. If Vermont legislators work with the governor to update the bill accordingly, there’s a chance that a new-and-improved version could pass during the June veto session that begins June 21.

Or the state’s Congress could simply override Gov. Scott’s veto. That would take a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House. The bill breezed through the Senate with a 20-9 margin, but had a tougher time in the House, where it passed by a 79-66 margin.

House republicans appear to be the hang-up in both scenarios, the veto session and the override.

While some House GOP-members have supported the bill, they reportedly have a tradition of deciding together how to vote, and then proceeding as a bloc. With House Minority Leader Don Turner speaking out in a recent statement against rushing towards a new bill, it seems unlikely that Vermont will pass recreational pot in 2017.

But 2018 is doable.

That would allow ample time for the parties involved to research the governor’s concerns (minors, cannabis DUI) and return with a bill that better addresses public safety.

Vermont residents appear ready for legalization. A study conducted by Marijuana Policy Project found that 57% of voters in Vermont support legalizing marijuana. Momentum is building and with support behind it.

The prospect of tax revenue could also help propel this process. Neighboring Massachusetts is set to open its first legal pot shops in 2018. Should the cannabis market there prove prosperous and safe (to say nothing of Vermonters who will unlawfully procure cannabis from friends and relations across the border) then Vermont will have all the more reason to move forward with legalization.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz

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