Vermont Governor Vetoes Marijuana Bill

Republican Phil Scott reiterated his support for medical pot, but sent the bill lack to the legislature to strengthen health and safety measures

Republican Gov. Phil Scott Credit: Alden Pellett/AP

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has vetoed S. 22, legislation that would have legalized cannabis in the state for adults over the age of 21. The libertarian-leaning governor sent the law back to the legislature to develop clauses that further protect the health and safety of his constituents, he said in a press conference.

The proposed bill – which would have been the first to legalize cannabis through a legislative process rather than a ballot initiative – would have allowed adults to possess up to an ounce of weed, two mature plants and four immature plants. It also would have established a study commission to look at cannabis tax-and-regulate models in other states and make recommendations for how Vermont should set up its own market.

Though Scott said that he saw a "clear societal shift" on the issue, and reiterated his support for medical marijuana, he said that he was not convinced this bill went far enough to protect Vermonters from intoxicated drivers, and local children from being exposed to use of the drug. He announced that he was sending the bill back to the legislature with specific suggestions on how to amend it during the summer session. 

"Despite the veto, this is a huge leap forward," said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement released Wednesday. "The passage of S. 22 demonstrates most members of both legislative chambers are ready to move forward with making marijuana legal for adults. Lawmakers have an opportunity to address the governor’s concerns and pass a revised bill this summer, and we are excited about its prospects."

Medicinal cannabis has been legal in Vermont since 2004, when then-Governor James Douglas allowed a bill passed in the state legislature to become law without his signature. In 2013, Vermont decriminalized possession of one ounce or less of cannabis, but a May 2016 effort to fully legalize, tax and regulate it failed when the Vermont House voted against a Senate-passed plan.

According to a recent RAND corporation study, 80,000 Vermonters use cannabis regularly, while a separate Public Policy Polling survey of 755 registered Vermont voters found that 57 percent support legalization while only 39 were opposed. 

Maine and Massachusetts voted to legalize cannabis last November along with successful ballot initiatives in California and Nevada. Despite the continued shift in attitudes towards marijuana and America's larger drug policies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently threatened to go after the cannabis industry in legal states.