Courts & Corrections

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.

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  • Jason Brisson

    Go ahead and veto it, you’ll be a one term Governor!

    • Youssef Ismail

      And rightfully so.

    • Julia Purdy

      So are you saying that potheads should rule Vermont?

      • Jason Brisson

        Cannabis users and supporters vote, just like people who drink alcohol. More and more people are seeing thru the delusional paranoid propaganda that is Reefer Madness.

  • Scott Pavek

    Phil has indicated he’s not interested in public opinion.

    Or facts – that is, relevant data from states which have actually legalized.

    This is willful ignorance on the Governor’s part. While he can point to his concerns about youth use and roadway safety, he can’t offer any data (save for flawed reports from the RMHIDTA) to justify his worries.

    He can’t point to another state and say more kids are using after legalization (citing Youth Risk Behavior Surveys). He can’t point to another state and say roadway fatalities are increasing due to legalization (citing FARS/WTSC). Because those things haven’t happened.

    Is he waiting for those trends to suddenly change? Does he suspect widespread carnage in states which have legalized to occur on a multiyear delay?

    Instead of fearing things that aren’t real, Phil could consider data which shows expanded access to marijuana is correlated to reduced opioid overdoses. He could effectively legislate the redirection of law enforcement resources away from policing marijuana and towards efforts to combat more serious crimes. He could allow responsible adults to extricate themselves from the black market by growing their own marijuana, rather than having to seek out dealers who may or may not be peddling other wares.

    Phil could make us safer. Instead, he may do what’s safest politically – he may calculate that vetoing this bill will do more for his self-preservation than helping the state would.

    I hope he won’t choose to forego an opportunity to improve public safety.

    • Zeke Livingstone

      This is what confuses me about his pro-police mentality in this case. “Phil” was brave in standing against the rising national tide of exclusionary directives coming from washington and potentially put himself in the GOP trolls or worse. We gave him some credit for that stance. So how can he be so uninformed and cowardly here?

    • Julia Purdy

      1. expanded access to marijuana is correlated to reduced opioid overdoses.
      – Equally bad news, esp. for young people. Can’t think straight, can’t learn, can’t remember, can’t work, can barely hold a conversation.
      2. He could effectively legislate the redirection of law enforcement
      resources away from policing marijuana and towards efforts to combat
      more serious crimes. – I don’t think the police really mind enforcing marijuana laws.
      3. He could allow responsible adults to extricate
      themselves from the black market by growing their own marijuana, rather
      than having to seek out dealers who may or may not be peddling other
      wares. – Like all those people who live in apartment buildings which, by the way, would likely get you evicted, and just because you can grow tomatoes on your windowsill, you still go out and buy tomatoes, don’t you?
      4. It’s not a question of “fearing things that aren’t real.” Potheads and other druggies are not noted for being in reality. What do the potheads fear?

      • Jason Brisson

        “What do the potheads fear?”
        Fear mongering reefer madness types who seek to impose their beliefs on others thru the force of government.

  • Clancy DeSmet

    Vermont is one of the top states for monthly cannabis usage, and yet Vermont is one of the top states with the fewest driving fatalities in America.

  • Jamie Carter

    ““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.”

    Mr. Rettew is in need of some updated reading of the scientific literature. He seems to be concerned with mental health and medical issues. I’d suggest he start reading about it before he goes making public comments that show his ignorance of the subject, a subject he is supposed to be an expert in. Marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating depression, anxiety and PTSD. Perhaps the “negative” consequences are fewer people in his waiting room?

    As for drugged driving, ultimately a roadside test would be ideal and there are several currently being tested. In the meantime, we have police trained to spot impaired drivers. I have to ask… do Mr. Rettew and Gov. Scott not have faith in the VSP to utilize their training? And if a police officer can not tell if someone is “high” doesn’t that indicate their level of impairment is low enough not to be a hazard? Similar to having a beer. One beer impairs you, just not to the extent you are no longer capable of safely operating a motor vehicle. Same thing.

    Medical / Mental health concerns are a distraction and are not based in research. Drugged driving is a valid point, however I have confidence in our trained VSP to be able to identify and prosecute those who are impaired behind the wheel.

    If you have no faith in the VSP to do their jobs, then fire them all and save taxpayers a lot of money. Otherwise, show a little faith and let them do their jobs.

    Here’s what it comes down to. Phil doesn’t care so much about legalization but it’s not going to go over well with the GOP. Unfortunately their position on this one issue is costing them seats in Montpelier, but that’s besides the point. Phil has to tread carefully on this issue, upset his party or be hampered by this issue every year until it is passed into law… which is exactly what will happen. If its not signed this year it will come up again, and again, and again.

    Prediction… it becomes law with out the Gov’s signature. That’s ultimately the smart thing to do. It’s risky to let it go to a veto vote, it would not be good to lose a veto in your very first session.

    • Catherine Antley

      Note received this morning from ER physician in Colorado” I feel like we have opened pandora’s box and this is a nightmare. There are more youth using than ever before. The marijuana industry does everything they can to beat us down and they have the funds to do it. Since all the MJ business started here, they quote that they brought 1300 jobs to the area. HOWEVER, those are all low paying, minimum wage jobs, so one has to wonder if they really “improved our economy”. Certainly, there has been no improvement in the schools, police force or in the ability to provide medical care. The providers here are getting beaten every day. My hospital is a 300 or so bed hospital and we have had 120% occupancy for the last 2.5 years. Prior to that, there were no waits for beds, but now….. Along with the marijuana, came the increase in opiates and meth. The cartels are not stupid, they have people here and they sell the heroin and meth cheaper than the marijuana. So, all the people who have come here on a fixed (usually some type of disability) income, spend what they can and then turn towards the cheaper substances (meth/heroin) at the end of the month. We have daily overdoses. For the last year, the ICU has had at a minimum 2 patients/day who are ill secondary to some drug related complication. Every shift I work, I see the same. Some young person, addicted to drugs, new to Colorado, wanting more services (medicaid, assistance, food stamps, housing, etc). I had the opportunity to take a reporter from Australia on a tour of the homeless camps here. Its sad and it has made poor/blue collar city a poor drug infested/crime ridden city. Every time we publish the stats, the marijuana folks are there calling us liars. I have been threatened on a number of times for my stance against marijuana (as have the other members of our core group). I think that its interesting that when we present facts, the MJ side yells, threatens and does everything they can to discredit us. YET, the first place they come when they get in trouble is straight to us…… Its so discouraging. Most of the members of my group (a long standing private ED group) want to leave. Sorry for the diatribe. I guess what I want to say is, keep up the fight. Prevent rather than react when the MJ is already legalized. The MJ grows are also remarkably damaging to the environment (take an inordinate amount of water and energy) and yet the environmentalists seem to be ok with that. I don’t understand that either. Dr. Karen Randall ER Physician, Colorado

  • Peter Everett

    Go ahead and sign it. We know that this is all about the money they expect they will receive. What will they say when their projections come no where near reaching the numbers they thought they would get (just like all other projections they get). I have never used the stuff, seen it only once, it’s a non entity for me. I have no valid opinion on the stuff, so, if people want to alter their state of mind, go ahead. Just remember,, there should be consequences for any actions that harm another person (not in Vermont, though). Penalties to people found in an altered state and doing harm to another person should face stiff penalties. Lenient Vermont will have no part of that, I’m sure. “Show me the money” is the motto for the Legislature.

    • Youssef Ismail

      Thank you for being honest. You clearly dont know anything about marijuana, and you’re up front about it. I agree, anyone who causes harm to another person should be (and will be) held accountable. Having said that. The next stoned person I hear about harming others will be the very first stoned person I’ve heard about harming others. It simply isn’t that type of intoxicant.

      • Julia Purdy

        “Intoxicant” – derivation: toxin, toxic. That should tell you everything.

        • sandybettis

          Let’s outlaw alcohol – it is much more dangerous than pot.

        • JT Bedard

          Cannabis is clinically non-toxic. The LD50, as determined by the DEA’s own lab, would require an individual to consume 1500lbs of Cannabis in a 15 minute period.

    • Dominic Cotignola

      Intoxication also includes those drugs in your medicine cabinet from your PA. Pretty much mind altering too. Including over the counter. How many of you think twice by popping those pills from the drug commercial then go shopping?

      May cause sleepiness is printed on every bottle of drugs. Most due more than sleepiness and those are “legal” and well available. Just ask for them and have someone else pay for them (insurance).

      Used the stuff only once for a week. Never smoked cigs or anything else but don’t like the idea of MJ being classified as a class c drug. I really don’t know what is the big deal with MJ. I guess it’s just the history of this country. Is it the closeness to the countries that produce it? Doesn’t seem like the rest of the world gives a ___ about the plant except for the Hemp version.

  • Rick Veitch

    80,000 to 100,000 Vermonters will remain second class citizens unless S.22 is enacted into law.

    • Julia Purdy

      Drug use is not a civil right. Only an untreated addict would think so. You have the unalienable right to clean air, clean water, a healthy environment, social success, success in relationships, the free use of public facilities, education, and a host of other things. If being deprived of the unlimited right to be stoned all the time makes you a second class citizen, then it’s all in your mind.

  • Dominic Cotignola

    Hey Phil,
    Listen to this. It’s not what you think.
    https://www.ted.com/talks/david_casarett_a_doctor_s_case_for_medical_marijuana

  • Fred Schwacke

    I made the following post yesterday which was subsequently removed, respectfully, why? “I don’t either drink alcohol or do drugs, unless you count the handful of meds I swallow daily. That said, if alcohol with all of it’s society destroying effects, and the violence of all stripes it causes are acceptable, all considered, pot is far more worthy of legalization than booze. Should you choose to vote against marijuana on moral and ethical grounds, I assume you will be promptly introducing legislation criminalizing alcohol use.”

  • John Skalecki

    “Not philosophically opposed” should = letting the bill pass without a signature at the very least. Then Gov Scott can retain his plausible deniability if the world implodes after S22 is law.

  • Felicia Scott

    Legalization of marijuana would be very bad for Vermont. We have enough drug addicts already.

    • sandybettis

      You are lumping marijuana in with hard drugs – that is incorrect – a better comparison would be alcohol which, by the way, is legal.

      • Julia Purdy

        A drug is a drug is a drug. Drugged behavior is ugly and deplorable. Marijuana has a time-release feature, unlike alcohol. Marijuana also leaves the user wanting more and more of a high — hence the proliferation and marketing of synthetic THC compounds many times more potent than your homegrown joint, not to mention combining marijuana with alcohol and other drugs.

        • sandybettis

          Misinformation is a big problem.

          • JT Bedard

            Funny that you admit to your own lack of accurate information.

          • sandybettis

            I didn’t think that personal attacks were allowed.

        • Jason Brisson

          “ugly and deplorable”
          Exactly what the opposition to Cannabis is.

  • Joyce Frederick

    Governor, you know all those phone calls that you aren’t taking – those people are voters. They are calling you to have their voices heard but you aren’t listening. Maybe you should keep in mind that you are an elected official not reigning Monarch.

  • sandybettis

    “The right time” is way overdue.

  • Kathryn Nugent

    I disagree with Subin’s comment above that this bill will do anything to further public safety or health; this bill is about expanding access to this drug that has been shown to have very significant negative health outcomes, and should not be prescribed or used without medical, professional consultation and full awareness of its side effects. To dismiss the many professionals who are experts in public safety and health shows a selfish disregard for one’s own impact on others’ safety and well-being.

    The marijuana industry itself admits that it doesn’t really want any regulation, even though that is how it is selling its proposals to the public; see this comment from the industry here: “Oppose 2015-2016 initiative #139 regarding regulation of the sale of marijuana and marijuana products as well as any other ballot issues intended to limit access to marijuana or marijuana products.”
    http://www.thecannabist.co/2016/06/30/pot-potency-limits-colorado/57322/
    This further shows that our ability to control the societal impacts of use would be less, not more, should this bill be signed into law; the industry wants to be able to promote and sell its product, which is what it means by “regulate,” when most of the public is thinking, “restrictions” on sales and promotion.

    The marijuana industry is following the same deceptive tactics as the tobacco industry, and even recently admitted–bragged–about soliciting the tobacco industry for donations to their next effort in Michigan: “He solicited tobacco business interests in Michigan in search of campaign donations to run what will likely be a multimillion-dollar, 19-month endeavor, but he said he was largely unsuccessful.”
    https://mjbizdaily.com/mpp-chief-ready-barter-marijuana-campaign-donations/

    There are more than two professional organizations that oppose legalization in Vermont, and they include:
    The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police
    Vermont Student Assistance Professionals
    Vermont Medical Society
    Vermont Academy of Family Physicians
    Vermont Psychiatric Association
    Vermont Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter
    American College of Physicians Vermont Chapter
    Boys and Girls Club
    Central Vermont New Directions Coalition
    Mt. Ascutney Hospital Health Center
    Vermont Sheriffs Association
    Vermont Police Association
    Association of Student Assistance Professionals of Vermont
    Winooski Coalition for a Safe and Peaceful Community
    Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community

    • Clancy DeSmet

      But the voters support cannabis legalization. The war on drugs is a war on people.

  • Julia Purdy

    The best time to legalize recreational marijuana is never. As the Colorado experience continues to demonstrate, legalization — which was passed in a public referendum, never responsibly debated and even now illegal in half of Colorado’s counties — opens a Pandora’s box of undesirable consequences. Reports out of Colorado point to the legions of potheads who descended on the state, now unemployed and homeless and cashing in on state aid programs. And the black market has NOT gone away. Legalization is a windfall for the black market. Resistance to marijuana use is lowered when it is broadly legalized, esp. among young people, the immature, and those already addicted to alcohol and other drugs. The black market will hover around the edges of the legal marketplace, peddling unregulated weed at cut-rate prices.
    Governor Scott should join law enforcement, health professionals, teachers and social service agencies and “just say no.”

    • Jason Brisson

      I have never seen as much misinformation in one paragraph.