Vermont House Fails To Overturn Marijuana Veto

Jun 22, 2017

Legalized marijuana in Vermont will have to wait again. Among the vetoed legislation that the legislature reviewed during its special session on Wednesday was a bill to allow the use of marijuana by adults.  While the state Senate overturned the veto, the House refused to reverse the governor’s decision.

On May 10, the Vermont Legislature passed a bill that would allow adults over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to two mature and four immature plants.  The state became the first in the nation to legislatively legalize marijuana.

Two weeks later, first-term Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill.  He sent the measure back with a number of suggested changes, including clarifying penalties for sales to and use in the presence of minors and more details for creation of a regulatory commission.  Wednesday morning he said progress had been made in meeting his concerns.  “We’ve been through a good deal of talks and they have met many of the conditions, and I  believe they will meet, all the conditions that I laid out in the veto.”

During the veto session the Senate approved a compromise version of the original bill. Pro Tem Democrat Tim Ashe says the 30-member chamber has been more progressive in taking action on legalizing pot.   “The Senate was just more ready to move forward with a yes vote.  And so we controlled what was in our control which was our attitudes towards moving forward with a rational treatment of marijuana similar to alcohol for personal use. And it looks like it’ll be ‘til January before we have another chance to step forward along with the other group of states that have made changes in that regard.”

House members refused to suspend the rules to take up the revised version of the bill and the veto override failed. House Minority Leader Republican Don Turner says his caucus is very opposed to legalization and suspending the rules would have wasted time.   “We knew the vote count. So when the majority decided that they wanted to just call the vote I said fine. But if they follow the procedure there is no reason why marijuana wouldn’t be legalized next year unless they can’t get the stakeholders or the governor to agree at that point. But I don’t see our caucus really hindering that passage in the next session.”

A number of law enforcement officials had gathered at the statehouse to weigh in on the marijuana bill and the proposed compromise measure.  The joint appearance by members of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, Vermont Sheriffs’ Association, Vermont Police Association and Smart Approaches to Marijuana was led by Colchester Chief of Police Jennifer Morrison.   “The path to legalization should start with the creation of a commission or group tasked with identifying appropriate benchmarks of improvement before legalization occurs. That group should include those of us on the front lines of prevention, education, treatment and public safety.  While we’re pleased with the news that the marijuana bill will not be taken up, moving forward those of us on the front lines need to be included and want to be included in this conversation.”

Governor Scott said Thursday he plans to create a commission to assess the safety and youth issues via executive order.  He also expects the bill will be on the House agenda when the second half of the biennium begins in January.