By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
Gov. Phil Scott reiterated Thursday, Jan. 11, he plans to sign the bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Vermont, but said he’s still undecided about whether to have a public signing for H.511 and did not say when the signing (public or private) would happen. The bill, H.511, cleared the Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 10, and the House the week prior.
The pot bill allows the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants by people 21 or older.
During the last legislative session Scott vetoed a measure that also would have legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and permitted the cultivation of a few plants.
H.511 represents a compromise reached by the heads of the Senate and House Judiciary panels and Scott’s administration. Added provisions include creating enhanced criminal penalties for using pot in a vehicle with children and increasing penalties for providing marijuana to anyone underage.
“This is a libertarian approach. I’ve said I’m not philosophically opposed to it,” the governor said Thursday. “I know there’s diverse opinion right here in this room as to whether we should move forward, but I still firmly believe that what you do in your own home should be your own business as long as it doesn’t affect someone else.”
Once the bill gains the governor’s signature, Vermont will become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislation, rather than by voter initiative. The legislation would go into effect July 1. Vermont will join eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Washington — and the District of Columbia where possession of small amounts of marijuana are legal for recreational use.
The vote in Vermont came a week after the Trump administration announced it would scrap the policy during the Obama administration that provided legal shelter for state-sanctioned marijuana sales.
Legislators and law enforcement officials opposed to the legalization effort have advocated that the process slow down. They called for a delay to allow time for a commission formed by the governor that is looking into marijuana legalization to issue its first progress report, due in mid-January.
Scott said during his news conference Thursday that he’s been briefed on the report and doesn’t see anything in it that would change his mind on whether to sign the bill.
The governor’s comments closely followed remarks he made late last year in an interview on Vermont Public Radio. That includes his concern that before a measure to set up a regulatory and tax system for retail sales of marijuana, issues such as driver impairment and edibles need to be addressed.
“That’s a big step from here,” Scott said of a tax and regulated market structure, “but this approach is something I’m comfortable with.”
Photo by Mike Dougherty
Gov. Phil Scott