Back in mid-May of this year, all signs pointed to an easy win for legal cannabis in Vermont. At that time, Vermont lawmakers decided to move ahead with a vote on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. With wide public and legislative support, the bill swiftly made it to the desk of Governor Phil Scott.
But despite broad backing, Scott has been slow to support legal cannabis in Vermont. And later in the month of May, the governor stalled on his up-or-down vote on legal weed. Ultimately, Governor Scott decided to veto the marijuana bill. Now, the law is back with legislators.
Understandably, all this back and forth has people wondering exactly what’s up with legal cannabis in Vermont. Will recreational use become legal? And when? What will it take to move Governor Scott forward on the issue? Will Vermont become the ninth state in the Union to legalize recreational cannabis or not?
Lawmakers’ Unique Approach To Legal Cannabis In Vermont
Adult recreational use of marijuana is legal in eight U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. But each of those states legalized cannabis through a referendum. In other words, they left it up to voters to decide.
Vermont, however, is trying to become the first state to legalize recreational use through a full legislative process, without a general vote by the electorate.
Because Vermont wants to be the first state to legalize through the legislature, passing the bill requires more steps and is a bit more complicated than a simple ballot measure. And things just became more complicated in the wake of Governor Scott’s veto of the bill.
Governor Scott’s Veto Could Seriously Delay Legal Cannabis in Vermont
Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill citing concerns that the law did not include harsh enough penalties for violators. Despite not being entirely against legal cannabis in Vermont, Scott wants to make sure his state “get this right.”
For Scott, getting things right means slowing things down and giving lawmakers time to make the changes he has recommended. Vermonters use marijuana more than any other state in the nation. The bill that would allow for legal cannabis in Vermont is partially aimed at reducing black market sales.
But Gov. Scott wants to change the law by upping penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis and distributing it to minors. He cited intoxicated driving, public health, and underage use as major concerns underlying his veto.
Gov. Scott believes those changes could be made sometime this summer in a special legislative session. But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are skeptical that things can move so quickly.
Despite the broad support for the bill, addressing Gov. Scott’s veto concerns in a special July session would require suspending some of the legislative rules. Democrats are eager to reach a compromise. But Republicans aren’t likely to suspend assembly rules for the sake of moving more quickly on legal cannabis in Vermont.
The bottom line is that it is possible to legalize recreational marijuana in Vermont this summer, but unlikely. GOP representatives support Gov. Scott’s veto and see no reason to move quickly.
Here’s The Deal With Legal Cannabis in Vermont
The entire process with legal cannabis in Vermont is a bit of a brain-bender. So let’s sum things up so far. In early May 2017, Vermont lawmakers passed a bill that would legalize adult recreational use. Then in late May 2017, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill citing concerns over public safety.
Currently, Vermont lawmakers are trying to see their way to a compromise on Gov. Scott’s recommendations. They hope to bring the bill forward again during a special summer session in July. However, this would require suspending the assembly rules.
So backers of the adult-use bill face an uphill battle. Republicans just don’t view legal cannabis in Vermont as a high priority. All of this means that the earliest we could see legal cannabis in Vermont is July 2018. But if lawmakers can’t get the job done this summer, the wait will be even longer.
A Public Without A Voice
Vermont has the highest rate of cannabis use out of all fifty states. Yet the public has been left without a voice in the process to bring legal weed to Vermont. Because Vermont wants to legalize cannabis through the legislature, and not by a popular vote, supporters don’t have much power to move things forward. So for now, proponents of legal cannabis in Vermont will have to wait for another opportunity to pass a revised bill that addresses Gov. Scott’s criticisms.