We have been covering the proposed marijuana legalization bill in Vermont very closely this legislative session, so you can imagine my disappointment when this letter came to my inbox today, stating that Vermont Governor Phil Scott vetoes legalization bill.
Governor Scott states that he want to get this right and that perhaps they need to move a little bit slower on this issue in both his letter and his press conference. Here is the full text of the letter:
Thank you for reaching out regarding S.22, an act relating to eliminating penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older. While I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I believe that it is an inevitable part of the future, I decided to return this bill to the Legislature, and offer a path forward that still legalizes personal possession, while taking a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves to a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system.
Being Governor means that I will have to make tough decisions, and this bill is not an exception. I have received much input on this issue since the Legislature passed S.22 on May 10th, and taken time to fully understand what the legislation proposes to do. I have three strategic priorities as Governor: make Vermont more affordable, grow the economy, and protect the most vulnerable. To protect the most vulnerable, there is still work to be done on this issue – specifically we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our roadways, fund and implement substance abuse prevention education, and keep our children safe while strongly penalizing those who do not.
I have asked the Legislature to come back this summer and, while still allowing for possession of one ounce and a set number of marijuana plants, change S.22 to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors. We must acknowledge that marijuana is not alcohol and it is not tobacco – how we protect children from the new classification of the substance is incredibly important.
Additionally, I am asking for changes to the Marijuana Regulatory Commission, which is currently charged with bringing forward legislation next January on how to accomplish a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for a marijuana market. I believe there are key stakeholders missing from this Commission, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Taxes, and the prevention and treatment communities. Given the gravity of this policy change, the Commission should also have more time to thoughtfully complete its work on this complex issue. I would like to see the Commission determine an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle, explore impairment testing mechanisms, provide an education and prevention strategy to lower consumption of, and access to, controlled substances by minors, and a plan for continued monitoring of impacts on public health.
Please know this is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning of a more thoughtful, deliberative process about a Vermont way to deal with a social issue that impacts all of us.
Philip B. Scott
This version of bill S.22 is now dead. The Vermont State legislature can potentially create another recreational/adult-use marijuana bill during the new session January. You can watch the Governor's press conference announcing the veto here.