Countdown begins: Scott has five days to decide on pot - VTDigger

Countdown begins: Scott has five days to decide on pot

Phil Scott

Gov. Phil Scott. Photo by Michael Dougherty/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott has until the end of the day Wednesday to decide the fate of a marijuana legalization bill.

The Senate secretary confirmed Thursday that the bill has been sent to the governor. Scott now has five days — not counting Sunday — to decide what to do: Sign it, veto it, or let it pass into law without his signature.

Two weeks ago, it seemed improbable that pot legalization would make it to the governor this year. Several models for legalization came up this year attached to various bills, but the timing so late in the session blurred a path forward.

However, a delay in adjournment because of differences over the negotiating of teachers’ health benefits allowed a Senate-proposed compromise to come up and pass on the House floor last week.

The final bill, S.22, would implement a bare-bones model of legalization favored by the House, starting in July 2018 — allowing adults to possess up to an ounce of pot and to grow a handful of plants at home.

The bill also creates a commission charged with drafting a legislative proposal to establish a system of taxing and regulating sales of pot — the model the Senate preferred.

The fate of the bill on Scott’s desk is unclear.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the governor said his position on the issue is “no secret.” He is not “philosophically opposed” but has concerns about marijuana-impaired driving. He also is worried about children’s access to pot-infused edibles.

“I’m not sure the time is right now,” Scott said.

He said he had not yet reviewed the bill.

Though his office has received many calls on the issue, he said the influx has not swayed his opinion.

“We have the opportunity to make sure that we do the right thing right now,” he said. “We don’t have to move forward without making sure that we have all the precautions in place.”

A spokesperson for Scott was unable to provide numbers as to exactly how many calls the governor had received on the issue earlier this week.

Since the bill cleared the Legislature last week, advocates on all sides of the issue have mounted campaigns to encourage the governor to veto or sign the bill.

Dr. David Rettew urges Gov. Phil Scott to veto a bill that would legalize adult possession of marijuana. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

About two dozen people gathered in the Cedar Creek Room at the Statehouse on Thursday to encourage a veto.

Dr. David Rettew, a child psychiatrist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, said it “irritates” him that some advocate legalizing marijuana possession as a public health and safety initiative.

“Yes, there might be some areas where there are public health advantages to legal cannabis, but those gains will be more than offset by the negative consequences we will see on our roads, in our schools and in our mental health clinics and hospitals,” Rettew said.

The bill has also garnered strong opposition from law enforcement.

Hinesburg Police Chief Frank Koss recalled an incident recently in his town where a cyclist was killed by a driver who was later found to have high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in his system.

Koss said Vermont police chiefs have unanimously come out against S.22.

However, many groups and organizations have come out strongly in favor of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont and several newspaper editorial boards.

Supporters herald the bill as a measured step forward on the issue given the imminent implementation of legalization in two other New England states. They also consider it a significant criminal justice reform step.

Laura Subin, of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, said proponents of legal pot share concerns about teen use, as well as substance abuse treatment and prevention efforts.

“We believe that it is better addressed in a legal, and ultimately a regulated, environment,” Subin said.

She said members of the coalition have been in touch with the governor on the issue.

Polls show the majority of Vermonters support legalization, according to her. She argued that the bill is a “moderate criminal justice reform” that will change a law that has disproportionately affected people of color.

“This is a very significant way to start to right those wrongs while moving slowly and at a pace that the majority of Vermonters and majority of our legislators are comfortable with,” she said.

Elizabeth Hewitt

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