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Vermont Gov. Vetoes Cannabis Legalization Bill

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott waves to the gallery as he departs the inauguration ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett)

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced his decision Wednesday to veto a bill that would have made Vermont the ninth US state to end its prohibition of cannabis. The Legislature-approved bill, S.22, would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of a small amount of cannabis.

The measure would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and over, and it would have permitted home cultivation of up to two mature plants and four immature plants. The measure would also create a state commission to look at cannabis tax-and-regulate models in other states and make recommendations for a possible adult-use market in Vermont.

In a press conference announcing his decision, Scott said he is willing to work with the state Legislature to create a better bill than the current bipartisan proposal. He identified three main areas in the bill he’d like to see addressed.

First, he said he wants tougher penalties for selling cannabis to minors as well as for consumption by adults in the presence of minors. Second, he would like to see stiffer penalties for those caught driving under the influence of cannabis.

The third change he would like, he said, is the expansion of the bill’s proposed commission to develop a tax-and-regulate proposal. As the bill was written, the commission would have studied other legal states, such as Colorado and Washington, that have existing regulated markets. Scott said he wants more representation from different departments in Vermont, such as the Department of Public Safety. He added that the commission should also study and determine cannabis driving impairment thresholds, along with how to test cannabis impairment.

It’s the second legalization measure in as many years to win significant support among Vermont lawmakers and then fall just short of becoming law.

Earlier this week, Scott told Kyle Midura of WCAX 3 News that he spent the weekend reviewing the legalization bill that was passed by the Vermont House and Senate last week.

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“I’m not philosophically opposed to it,” Scott said, adding that he wants any legal marijuana system to address highway safety and protect children from edible marijuana products. “I’m not sure that the time is right now.”

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The Republican governor has shown some openness to cannabis reform, but he told Vermont Public Radio last year that he’s never fully supported adult-use legalization.

I’ve been consistent in my response … when I was in the Senate, I voted in favor of medical marijuana. I was supportive of decriminalization. But I’ve said, “Not right now.” I don’t think we have enough information at this point. We have four other states that have legalized right now, and until we have some answers to questions, like impairment on our highways and the edibles and the tax structure and so forth and so on, I think we – the governor of Colorado even said …  “My advice to any states that are looking to legalize is, why don’t you wait a couple years?” And they’ll work some things out. We’ll learn from them. We can’t afford to make any mistakes here. So I’m not saying never. I’m saying it’s the timing’s not right. It’s not now.

A more expansive Vermont bill had the support of then-Gov. Peter Shumlin last year, but the bill ultimately languished in the Legislature.

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Vermont’s neighbors, Massachusetts and Maine, have passed voter initiatives to legalize cannabis and are expected to see retail stores open within the next year.