Thursday, April 18, 2024

What’s Next For Vermont Now That Legal Marijuana Is Dead?

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott put the kibosh on legalized cannabis on Wednesday. End of story, right? Well, not so fast.

It’s true that the Republican governor vetoed the legislation which would have made Vermont the ninth state to regulate the adult use of recreational marijuana. But pro-legalization advocates are hopeful that a compromise may be in the works.

Scott is not a pro-cannabis politician, but he claims that he is not philosophically opposed to marijuana legalization. He continues to voice his concerns regarding children’s health, impaired driving and general public safety. In his view, the legislation he vetoed did not do enough to assuage his fears.

“We must get this right,” said Scott. He has asked the state legislature to tweak the bill to strengthen the penalties for driving under the influence and other provisions to protect children.

“If the Legislature agrees to make the changes I am seeking, we can move this discussion forward in a way that the public health and safety of our communities and our children continues to come first,” Scott said.

Tom Angell, founder of the Marijuana Majority, was disappointed by the veto. But he sees the action a delaying tactic.

“While the news today is disappointing, it likely just amounts to a short delay. The governor’s comments make clear that legalization of marijuana in Vermont is only a matter of time — and some small tweaks to the bill,” Angell, said. “I’m very hopeful that lawmakers will make the changes he’s asking for, and that next month the state will become the first in history to end cannabis prohibition by an act of the legislature.”

According to the Burlington Free Press:

Lawmakers could agree to the governor’s demands and craft a compromise bill to pass during the June veto session that begins June 21.

These compromises would likely be baked into an entirely new bill. That was the strategy in 2016 when Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a renewable energy bill. The Senate voted to sustain the veto, then passed a separate bill that responded to the governor’s objections.

Timing could be tricky. Under normal rules, bills need at least three days in each chamber — one day on the notice calendar, one day for a preliminary vote, and one day for a final vote, plus extra days to allow for committee review and other procedural steps.

Lawmakers can pass a bill more quickly by suspending the rules, which requires a three-quarters vote in both chambers.

But this approach will be difficult to navigate. In order to suspend the rules, House Republicans need to be fully on board. House Minority Leader Don Turner said this is unlikely.

“I see no reason to expedite or circumvent the legislative process by suspending rules to pass S.22 during a one- or two-day veto session,” Turner said.

Another long shot is an attempt by the legislature to override the governor’s veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House. The Senate passed the bill 20-9, so this is a viable option if the pro-legalization members could sway those on the fence. But in the House, the measure passed by a much narrower margin, 79-66. An override appears impossible.

The most viable option, at this point, would be to get all sides together to craft legislation that would be acceptable to all parties involved and have it ready by next January.

This option seem to be supported by most members of the House, including GOP leader Turner.

“The Majority should consider the far-reaching health and safety consequences of this issue in January 2018, thus allowing ample time for a comprehensive and thoughtful debate among various stakeholders,” Turner said.


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