MONTPELIER, VT — Vermont Governor Phil Scott has returned a bill that would legalize marijuana possession, but not regulate marijuana sales, to lawmakers, issuing a veto on Senate Bill 22.
In a noon press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Scott provided “a path forward” to responsibly legalize marijuana in the Green Mountain State, inviting lawmakers to address the legislation during the upcoming summer veto session.
“We must get this right,” Scott told reporters. “I think we need to move a little bit slower.”
The governor expressed concerns regarding providing marijuana to minors, driving under the influence, and marijuana laws within school zones. Scott said he’d consider a new bill that addresses these issues if the state legislature were to send one to his desk during the upcoming veto session.
Gov. Scott says he will provide “areas of concern” for lawmakers to address to improve the bill, including emphasizing that penalties for providing marijuana to minors should remain the same as they are currently.
“It is disappointing that Gov. Scott would not only defy the will of his state legislators, but also the will of the majority of Vermont voters who support ending criminal penalties for those adults who consume cannabis responsibly,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a blog post shortly after the governor announced his decision.
“This change would have saved taxpayers money, allowed police, the courts, and community groups to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes and the opioid epidemic that is ravaging Vermont. Rather than looking to the future, Gov. Scott seems intent on repeating the failures of the past,” Strekal added.
During the press conference, Gov. Scott said he has never smoked marijuana, but has several friends that do, noting that they have told him they would continue to buy marijuana on the black market if it was taxed too much in the state.
Had Gov. Scott not vetoed the bill, Vermont would have become the first state to legalize marijuana through the state legislature.
Adults 21 or older would have been allowed to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana: beginning in July 2018, it would have eliminated Vermont’s civil penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana and removed penalties for possession of up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants. It would have created a study commission to develop legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.
Retail sales of marijuana are not authorized under the measure, however.
In February, Scott came out strongly in opposition to a more comprehensive Senate proposal that would have also licensed and regulated the commercial cultivation and retail sale of marijuana to adults.
Fifty-seven percent of Vermont voters support allowing adults 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana, according to a statewide survey of 755 registered voters conducted in March by Public Policy Polling. Only 39% are opposed.
According to a RAND Corporation study, regulating the commercial sale of cannabis in Vermont would generate $20 million to $75 million annually in new tax revenue.