On Monday, Governor Phil Scott signed legislation legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont, bringing an end to years of debate and efforts on both sides of the issue. The general reaction from legislators appears to mirror Scott’s desire to move on to other issues.
Governor Scott signed H.511 privately and said in a press release he did so with “mixed emotions.” In his letter notifying the legislature, he asks it to “..now turn its efforts to addressing more significant issues…”
The law, when it takes effect on July 1st, will eliminate penalties for adults age 21 and over who possess an ounce or less and cultivate two mature plants and up to four immature plants on their private property. There are some caveats. Consumption in public and in motor vehicles is prohibited. Schools, employers, municipalities and landlords can set policies restricting use and possession.
The governor vetoed a similar bill at the end of the last session and lawmakers worked to alleviate his concerns. Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe says legislators this week will take any necessary actions to nullify the vetoed bill and move forward on other issues. At the same time House Speaker Mitzi Johnson notes there’s been no follow-up marijuana legislation yet introduced. “Nothing's been introduced on tax and regulate this year.”
Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe: “There was no concern on our front. He had said he was signing it. We know that there'd be a moment when he signed it and it's a hundred-fifth of my list of a hundred priorities.”
Former state Senator Vincent Illuzzi, the Essex County state’s attorney, says the new law simply follows through and enhances past legislation. “The legislature a few years ago decriminalized up to an ounce of pot, marijuana, and set a civil penalty. So all this bill does is take away that civil penalty. So the real heavy lifting was done when marijuana was decriminalized. I don't see this as a significant step forward although advocates hail it as a major victory. But in reality a civil penalty is no longer applicable in small marijuana possession cases. So I don't see it as a significant step forward for the legalization movement. That happened a couple years ago when marijuana was no longer made a criminal offense for possessing less than one ounce.”
The governor created a marijuana commission to review highway safety, education and public health, and tax and regulation. A report is not due from the panel until December. Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman expects that while legislators will focus on other issues there will be conversations on what next steps should be taken. “I've actually talked to a number of legislators including many Republicans who feel that now that this is in place we really should actually look at tax and regulate sooner rather than later and use it for highway safety and youth prevention and for drug treatment for a wide range of drugs. Why not capitalize on that opportunity and meet the governor's objective of growing our economy, attracting young people. So what I've actually heard is more interest in tax and regulate now that this is the law not less.”
Vermont is the first state to legislatively legalize the use of marijuana. Eight other states have legalized marijuana through ballot initiatives.