On May 24, Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed a marijuana legalization bill in Vermont. At Medicine Man Technologies, we’ve enjoyed seeing greater marijuana acceptance across the country’s legal landscape. Unfortunately, they can’t all be victories – fortunately, this is not where the story ends.
Gov. Scott provided a detailed response stating his concerns and requesting modifications. In his letter, he said, “I will provide the Legislature with recommended changes, and if we can work together, we can move forward with this issue.” The matters he brought up may be discussed during a 2-day veto session scheduled for later this month and could potentially lead to a revised bill for Gov. Scott to approve.
The Basics of Bill S.22
What makes Vermont’s marijuana legalization bill so unique is that it wasn’t originally passed by a ballot initiative. Instead, it was first introduced in the state’s House of Representatives by co-sponsors, Republican Tom Burditt and Democrat Maxine Grad. In the House, it narrowly passed by a 79-66 vote and was then sent along to the state’s Senate where it was supported 20-9.
The bill that landed on the Governor’s desk would have allowed adults 21 years and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate a maximum of two mature and four immature plants in a secure location. Legalization would have gone into effect on July 1, 2018.
S.22 also sought to establish a 9-member, Marijuana Regulatory Commission to study and develop a system and regulations for a retail, adult-use marijuana market. The group’s first meeting was set for August 1, 2017 and their first report due to the General Assembly and governor by November 1.
Like many other states, the bill included standard limitations such as not providing marijuana to anyone under the age of 21, not being able to consume marijuana in public or while driving, as well as making it illegal for someone who provides home-based day care to use or cultivate at their location.
The Governor’s Response
At Medicine Man Technologies, we were encouraged to see some open-minded thought in his response letter. Gov. Scott began by saying, “With a libertarian streak in me, I believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children.”
His recommendations included clearly defining severe penalties for dispensing or selling marijuana to minors, especially when on school grounds. He also requested the establishment of strict penalties for not only marijuana consumption while driving, but consumption while driving with a minor in the vehicle which may affect the child due to secondhand smoke.
As for the Marijuana Regulatory Commission, Gov. Scott wants a more comprehensive member base, including representatives from the Department of Health and Department of Taxes, plus substance abuse professionals. He also suggested giving the group more time to complete its examination and submit final recommendations regarding:
- Appropriate regulation and taxation of a legal, adult-use retail marijuana system
- Revenue needed for regulation, enforcement, administration, education and prevention
- Establishing a threshold for driving while impaired and testing method
- A strategy for the education and prevention of drug use by minors
- Plans for ongoing monitoring and reporting of any public health effects
The governor stated, “We must get this right. That means letting science inform any policy made around this issue, learning from the experience of other states, and taking whatever time is required to do so.”
So, What’s Next for S.22?
Bottom line, either a revised version of the marijuana legalization bill must be passed by the House and Senate then submitted to the governor during the upcoming veto session, or it will have to be put on hold until January of 2018 when the state’s legislature reconvenes.
Revising and passing a new bill this June would require a two-thirds majority in the House to vote for a rule suspension that would then allow the process to be fast-tracked. Unfortunately, S.22 barely passed in the House the first time around and Minority Leader, Republican Donald Turner, has asserted that his 53 members would not support the rule suspension and therefore, it would not be approved.
If Rep. Turner is correct, one option would be to extend the veto session beyond the 2 days which some see as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Another possibility would be for Gov. Scott to create the regulation and taxation commission via executive order now. Then, if the legislature votes in favor of legalization in January, the original timeline and the July 2018 effective date would likely remain intact.
As Vermont waits to see how their legislature moves forward with creating a new and improved S.22, Medicine Man Technologies will be sure to provide the latest updates. Despite the fact that marijuana legalization was vetoed in Vermont, we truly see that it’s inevitable and look forward to supporting those wanting to start their own legal enterprise in the state. Consulting to cultivation and operations, we offer years of experience and expertise to our clients nationwide.