Marijuana legalization goes down in flames again in Vermont

By Bruce Parker and Michael Bielawski | True North Reports

MONTPELIER, Vt. — For the second time in 12 months, pot smokers in the Green Mountain State watched their dreams of legally possessing and growing marijuana go down in flames.

On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced his veto of S.22, a bill that would have let an estimated 80,000 pot smokers possess an ounce of marijuana and grow two mature pot plants — enough green stuff to produce almost 5,000 joints within four months.

NOT SAFE: Republican Gov. Phil Scott said lawmakers must do a lot more work if marijuana is ever to become safe and legal in Vermont.

“I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction,” Scott said at a midday news conference in Montpelier. “However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.”

Scott said decisions on the issue would need to be informed by sound science and observation of results in the eight states that recently legalized pot. Before Vermont can legalize marijuana, Scott added, “policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters, and those who visit us, to address health, safety, prevention and education questions.”

Such questions include how the state will detect and deter drugged driving, how to keep legal marijuana from ending up in the hands of kids, and how to gauge the impact of additional substance abuse on a state that has seen opioid-related deaths rise from 76 to 105 in a single year in Chittenden County alone.

“From my view, S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions. Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature,” the governor said.

For pro-marijuana lawmakers who worked tirelessly to get S.22 approved, Scott said there was yet “a path forward.” That path involves adopting his recommendations for a new bill, to be considered as soon as the upcoming veto session in June.

The governor’s recommendations include maintaining tough penalties for selling pot to minors, increasing penalties for driving stoned and smoking around minors, and staffing a Marijuana Regulatory Commission with representatives from the Public Safety Department, Health Department, Tax Department and substance abuse and prevention community.

“We must acknowledge that marijuana is not alcohol and it is not tobacco. How we protect children from the new classification of this substance is incredibly important,” Scott said.

Importantly, Scott also demanded that lawmakers produce estimates of the General Fund revenue necessary to carry out marijuana legalization in the state. That means producing fiscal notes for new regulation, enforcement, administration, education and prevention functions of state government.

Reaction to Scott’s veto ranged from cheers to jeers.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, an ardent supporter of legalization, criticized the governor’s decision.

“The propaganda around cannabis use has clearly taken hold in the governor’s office because the statistics are very clear that the states with cannabis laws, both medical and recreational, on average have lower highway fatality rates than states without,” Zuckerman told True North.

He said getting marijuana off the black market should keep it away from kids, not make it easier to access.

“We have real opportunity here to reform our cannabis laws to both protect our youth, reduce teen access through a regulated marketplace and support better drug treatment facilities and higher economic opportunities. And vetoing this bill continues to set us back,” Zuckerman said.

Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group opposed to legalization, praised the veto.

“We commend Governor Scott for vetoing S.22 and backing parents, teachers, doctors and law enforcement across Vermont who are working each day to make our communities healthier and safer,” he told True North.

“Vermont already decriminalized marijuana years ago — this bill was designed to be a gateway for the full-scale commercialization of another drug in Vermont.”

Sabet added that his organization will keep a close eye on the special session next month. In particular, he said he will be on the lookout for any action by lawmakers that would allow “Big Marijuana to come to Vermont.”

Wednesday’s events may have felt like déjà vu all over again for legalization advocates. In May 2016, exactly one year ago, the Vermont House voted down a similar bill by a vote of 121-28, even after the Senate approved a comprehensive regulatory structure to grow, sell and tax marijuana in retail outlets starting in 2018.

During that debate on the House floor, lawmakers reviewed data from Vermont State Police that said two pot plants could produce more than 4 pounds of marijuana in 120 days, leading to as many as 4,830 joints.

Bruce Parker is a managing editor and staff writer for True North Reports. Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports.

9 thoughts on “Marijuana legalization goes down in flames again in Vermont

  1. “How to keep legal marijuana from ending up in the hands of kids”, is tantamount to the legislature being tasked for a solution to keep phosphates and Eurasian milfoil out of Lake Champlain

    • They all forget that these drugs are easier to find today than before Nixon started this ridiculous war on drugs

  2. Happy Day!!! At last, we have a leader who uses his brain and common sense to use his veto power for the common good. Finally Vermonters will see some light at the end of the tunnel. Long over due.

  3. Phil Scott is voting on the side of Big Pharma. They are the only ones threatened by marijuana. It would cut into their prescription opioid profits. Cannabis is already safer than aspirin or even peanut butter. No one has ever died from smoking pot. Besides, anyone who would smoke it if were legalized, is already doing so now. The only thing that would change is that they could do it without being harassed by law enforcement.

  4. Congratulation Governor, for using common sense and not passing this bill. This was a pipe dream
    of a few Pro Pot Legislators including the LT Governor . Hey, try doing something important with your
    time, we have real issues in the State and we don’t need more !!

    These buffoons stating this is the salvation to the state debt, this bill is all smoke & mirrors to make
    it palatable so the bill would pass, all this bill would do is open Pandora’s Box !!

    There is no way to enforce anything in this bill , Like this article states there are 80 thousand pot
    heads pushing this bill or the 600 + thousand common sense Vermonters that see the ramifications
    with this bill .This is not the fix all bill for the states problems .

    • Time to come out of the stone age Henry. You’re probably not even a true Vermonter. Its far more likely you’re a liberal transplant from Connecticut or New Jersey.

      • George , Nope not a transplant ……. I was in the stone age back in the sixties , kind of grew out of it
        Got married , had a family and then retired from my job , life is good I don’t need to smoke a bowl .

        • Well then if you dont drink and you dont do prescription drugs then your opinion….well is still just YOUR opinion. Keep it to yourself and let the rest of us alone 🙂

        • The bill was never meant to be a FIX ALL for Vermont’s problems. You would have to bulldoze Burlington into Lake Champlain to do that. It was meant to pull in some extra revenue from the people that are already using marijuana. It was a bill that would STOP using state monies chasing after a plant! Marijuana is easier to get on the black market today than it was before Tricky Dick Nixon started the ridiculous failed war on drugs. Do you really think anything would change? The same people are still going to be smoking it, they just wouldnt have to worry about the state ruining their lives because of it. Why is it that some people have to push THEIR values on everyone else??

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