Vermont’s governor, Republican Phil Scott, rejected a bill to legalize recreational marijuana this past Wednesday.
He cited safety as his main concern. “I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction,” he said. “However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.”
Although Vermont would have been the eighth state to legalize recreational marijuana, it would have been the first to do so by a legislative act rather than a citizen referendum. It was approved by the state Senate and the House earlier in the month, both of which are controlled by Democrats.
The proposed bill would have allowed a person over the age of 21 to own up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to two mature plants and up to four immature plants. It also stated the penalty for providing marijuana to minors as up to $2,000 in fines and up to two years in prison. It specified that the current penalties of having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle would apply to marijuana as well. It did not, however, specify penalties for driving stoned.
Scott told reporters he would like to see the bill beefed up with more regulations encouraging safe use and punishing those who abuse it. This includes increasing penalties for driving under the influence and selling marijuana to minors. He would also like to see an “impairment testing mechanism” similar to a breathalyzer included in the final bill, although there is currently no device available. The lack of such a device would make enforcement difficult for police, especially when apprehending possibly stoned drivers.
Finally, Scott wants the bill to include putting money towards enforcement and educating residents on safe recreational use of pot. It additionally needs to outline a system of tax collection and health representatives.
“If the legislature agrees to make the changes I am seeking, we can move this discussion forward in a way that ensures the public health and safety of our communities and our children continues to come first,” said Scott.
Scott’s willingness to work with legislators on reframing the bill is offering hope to pro-legalization groups in the area, especially the Marijuana Policy Project. Matt Simon, the group’s New England policy director, said in a statement to the press, “we are very encouraged by the governor’s offer to work with legislators to pass a legalization bill during the summer veto session.”
He expressed the strong support for legalization from Vermont residents and highlighted the important nature of the bill. “Most Vermonters want to end marijuana prohibition, and it is critical that the legislature respond by passing a revised legalization bill this summer.”
The veto session is scheduled to begin this summer on June 21.