Last week, Vermont governor Phil Scott vetoed S.22, a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state. The bill was approved by both House and Senate and would have allowed residents to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to 2 plants at home. It would not have allowed for the sale of marijuana to take place in the state but the plant would at least be legalized by July 2018. Many supporters of the bill were disappointed by his decision, including Scott’s Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, who stated that the governor’s decision was “very short-sighted” and that he was “sad to see the Governor disregard the will of most Vermonters and reduce individual liberties in our state.” Polls in the state indicate that the majority of Vermont residents are in favor of legalization although this would be the first time it was legalized by legislature as opposed to a vote.
Forward Momentum of Bill Rewrites
Scott vetoed the bill because he wanted harsher punishments for those who smoked in front of children or drove under the influence. He also wanted more time for official research to be done on the effects of legalizing marijuana in the state. The authors of the bill were willing to work with the governor on these points and he promised that once these are revised, the bill will get another chance to pass. The demand for forward movement on the bill has been such that Scott’s staff have already started working with the authors and advocates of the bill to make these changes this week and a draft may be ready for review as soon as June 21st, which is when the next 2 day veto session will take place.
A 3/4 Majority
In order to pass the law by June 21st, a 3/4 majority vote will be needed to suspend the rules. Unfortunately, the Minority Leader Don Turner stated last week after hearing that the governor vetoed the bill that he would not want to ignore the regular process as he sees “no reason to expedite or circumvent the legislative process by suspending rules.” This could hold things up if other Republicans share this view, although Rep. Corey Parent has already stated that he’d most likely vote to suspend the rules as he sees no reason to drag the issue out. If progress becomes blocked, lawmakers are still working on ways to progress forward.
Different Maneuvers Toward Cannabis Reform
One work around the block would be to make the veto session go longer than 2 days, which would make it unnecessary to suspend rules. This is and of itself may be enough to keep things moving. However, if it isn’t enough to keep the momentum, there are backup options being weighed. Another way would be for the governor to issue an executive order to create the study commission needed to make it legal by July 2018. Either way, forward progress is expected and, it would seem, inevitable.