About two weeks ago, Vermont lawmakers made the bold decision to be the first to pass a bill to legalize cannabis onto the governor for consideration. Last year the state came close, but the bill never made it out of the House. This time around, multiple versions of a legalization bill were tossed around before Senate Bill 22 was revised to include language from a House bill before being sent to the House, who passed it on to the governor in a last minute vote during an extended session.
The bill would legalize possession, use and home growing of cannabis – similar to the law that was passed by voters in D.C. a few years back. While it would not create a taxed and regulated market for commercial sales of cannabis, it does create a commission made up of several members of congress, as well as members of the public, which would be tasked with determining the best way to go about regulating the plant. Finally Governor Scott has made his decision on the bill, which unfortunately is to veto it for now – but not without making suggestions, which if the legislature were to include he would be willing to pass the bill.
“If the Legislature agrees to make the changes I am seeking, we can move forward with this discussion in a way that ensures the public health and safety of our communities and our children continue to come first,” Scott said as he announced his veto Wednesday.
The changes proposed by the governor were not terribly extensive, and chances are lawmakers will be more than happy to compromise on these small issues and write in the revisions. Scott is hoping to see harsher penalties for those who drive while using cannabis, or are found to be using it in the presence of a minor, as well as those who sell to minors. He also hopes to add a couple of other members to the commission tasked with figuring out regulation and taxation of the plant, including a member of the Departments of Safety, Health and Taxes, as well as someone from the substance abuse and prevention community.
As it turns out, had there been more time for lawmakers to work on this bill, rather than attempting to pass it at the last minute, this might not have needed to be the case. Governor Scott didn’t expect the bill to be passed this year, expecting that they would pick up the discussion again next year and so he was not prepared to actually have to pass or veto the bill. While he is not entirely against legalizing cannabis he does have concerns over ensuring that they are doing the most possible to keep children and communities safe after doing so.
“It was a bit of a surprise that it all came together, to be perfectly honest with you,” Scott said. “We did not have an opportunity at that point to weigh in. And it may be a miscalculation on my part. I thought we were going to have the discussion next year.”
Lawmakers have two choices at this point – they can either vote on the bill again, and if they obtain two-thirds vote they will be able to pass the bill regardless of the Governor’s veto; or they can make changes to the bill per the Governors suggestions and it might get a chance to be passed in summer session. The only other option is to leave it as is, vetoed, and let things wait for now and start all over in the spring. However, considering the urgency lawmakers seemed to have towards getting this pushed through before the end of this session, and the unlikelihood that they would get the two-thirds vote needed, they will probably be working on the governor’s suggested revisions relatively soon, in hopes of getting the bill passed this year.