Vermont Governor Vetoes Legal Marijuana

May 24, 2017

Governor Phil Scott today vetoed Vermont’s first-in-the-nation legislatively approved marijuana legalization bill.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was in Montpelier today as the governor explained why he is sending the legislation back.

On May 10, the Vermont Legislature passed S.22 “An Act Relating To Eliminating Penalties for Possession of Limited Amounts of Marijuana by Adults 21 Years of Age and Older.”  Governor Scott, in his first term, says he has carefully weighed all sides and while he believes people should be able to do what they want in their homes, he has too many concerns about this bill.  “I have made it clear I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana.  However I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward. We should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our highways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.  From my vantage point S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions.  Therefore I am returning this bill to the legislature.”

Scott said in sending the bill back to legislators he is offering a path forward with a number of recommended improvements. He wants it to clarify penalties for sales to and use in the presence of minors.  The governor is also suggesting broader membership and specifications for a regulatory commission the legislation would create.

Page Communications principal and lobbyist Guy Page is concerned about the potential for youth consumption of marijuana if S.22 becomes law.   “I’m glad he vetoed it.  And I heard him say that he also is very concerned about impact on youth and education and public safety.  And I can only hope that he continues to set the bar high enough so that those issues are so well taken care of that it would be a remarkable, perhaps even impossible, piece of legislation for this current legislature to approve.”

Heady Vermont co-founder Eli Harrington says the governor has wasted an opportunity.   “We did have a chance here to not only make history but to actually take a proactive approach to this. I think that the majority of Vermonters were clear in that they wanted to change the status quo with this plant.  And I think that the legislature was clear.  They became the first legislature in the country to pass this bill.  So I’m surprised a little bit but I think it’s disappointment because I do think that Vermont deserves better and I’m not going to take any pleasure in watching other states around us benefit while we spin around in a circle here with the status quo.”

Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson issued a statement following the governor’s veto that says in part: "We know that prohibition does not work. The legislature put forth a modest, reasonable step in S.22 after ample discussion and extensive testimony in multiple committees. It's unfortunate that the Governor chose to put his ideas on the table after adjournment…”

Governor Scott indicated that legislators could make his suggested changes to the proposal during a veto session at the end of June.