On May 24, 2017, Republican Phil Scott, Governor of Vermont, had vetoed a bill for the legalization of marijuana. The legislation known as S. 22 would have legalized marijuana in the state for adults who are 21 years old and over. They would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate six plants with up to two being mature.
The state has already legalized medical marijuana since 2004, allowing patients to cultivate and possess weed for medicinal purposes. S. 22 would have allowed the recreational use of marijuana by July 2018.
Despite his decision, Governor Scott has reiterated that he supports medical marijuana and is not opposed to ending its prohibition. However, he was concerned that the bill was insufficient to protect the citizens from intoxicated drivers or exposure to minors. As such, he has sent the bill back to legislators with suggestions on how it could be amended.
His decision had mixed reactions from the residents of Vermont. Anti-legalization advocates are happy with the veto but worry that legalization of marijuana in Vermont could still be a possibility as legislators are given time to strengthen the bill. They opposed the possibility that the state might turn into an addictive industry. President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Kevin Sabet, opposes the bill and said that they will be working with allies in making sure any piece of legislature will not allow weed to Vermont.
Supporters of the bill were disappointed with the veto. They argue that the legalization of marijuana would make for a cleaner process due to the better handling of weed in a legal and regulated network. It would also generate income to fund drug rehabilitation centers and treatment, higher education and development, which they also argue, is the best method in the prevention of drug abuse. Still, supporters remain optimistic and are encouraged by the fact that the governor has offered to work with the legislators in improving the bill.
It has been pointed out that the bill ending up in the governor’s desk signals that legalization of marijuana has entered a new phase and had become so popular that lawmakers are acting upon it.
Vermont’s S.22 bill is significant as it is the first bill on marijuana legalization to have originated and passed from state legislature without the need for citizen votes. And if ever citizen participation should be needed, a March survey by Public Policy Polling of 755 registered voters of the state shows that 57 percent of voters support legalization of marijuana, while only 39 percent are opposed to it.
Lawmakers have the summer session to amend the bill and address Governor Scott’s concerns. But they have been advised to take more time in studying the different regulatory systems of other states so they can be more discerning on what works and what doesn’t in handling cannabis. Up until then, both advocates and opponents of the legalization of marijuana are still hard at work in strengthening their arguments.