Vermont may not be the first state to legalize cannabis through the legislature after all

Cannabis advocate were hopeful that Vermont would become the first state to pass a recreational cannabis bill when the legislature passed S 22 on May 10th. The New York Times Editorial Board even weighed in this morning encouraging Scott to sign the “DIY approach.” But, today, Governor Phil Scott (R) decided to veto the bill and “send it back to the legislature”.

Citing the last-minute rush to pass S 22 in the final days of the session as well as shortcomings in the bill related to access for minors, tougher penalties for impaired driving, and the structure and timing of the commission created by the bill, Scott held a press conference to announce he will veto the bill today. He did, however, express willingness to work with the legislature during the summer veto session to possibly get a bill passed with his recommended changes by July, assuming lawmakers are willing to work with him on a compromise.

Given the specific nature of his recommended changes, and the expressed willingness, it seems very possible that a compromise bill will get through this summer and take effect July 2018. This would put Vermont in line with several neighbors including Massachusetts, Maine, and Canada to implement cannabis bills for the summer of 2018.

Vermont legislature clears the path for recreational cannabis

Cannabis advocates are celebrating this week as the first recreational cannabis bill passed through a state legislature. Lawmakers in Vermont cleared the way for adult-use cannabis sales by passing a compromise bill that now heads to Governor Phil Scott’s desk.

Eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis use, but all of them have done it through a voter ballot initiative. If Governor Scott signs S. 22, Vermont would become the first state to adopt a recreational cannabis bill through the legislature.

The compromise bill does not create a full-blown retail cannabis system. Instead, it does the following:

  • Decriminalizes possession of less than one ounce
  • Allows home cultivation for up to two mature plants and four immature plants
  • Creates a study commission that would identify the best way to regulate retail cannabis sales in Vermont. The commission would draft legislation to be introduced at the start of the next legislative session
  • Sets the effective date to July 1st, 2018

It’s unclear at this point whether Governor Scott will sign the bill into law. Although the bill has strong support among the citizens of Vermont, Scott indicated that the bill is not a high priority for the state. The first-term republican governor has the option to veto the bill, sign it, or allow it to become law without signing.