Scott’s three marijuana options

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

With the countdown underway, Gov. Phil Scott says he has not yet made up his mind on what to do with legislation to legalize marijuana.

The bill, S.22, was delivered to him on Thursday, kicking off a five-day period when he can decide what to do.

The legislation would legalize adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and allow people to grow two mature and four immature plants at home, effective July 2018. It would also set up a commission to study implementation of a regulated marijuana market system.

On Friday, Scott said plans to take the weekend to study the legislation and reflect.

“I’m considering all of my options at this point,” Scott told reporters.

Scott said on one hand, he believes adults should be able to do what they wish in their own homes so long as no danger is posed to others.

“That Yankee streak in me, that libertarian streak in me says that’s OK,” he said.

However, he has concerns about what enactment of the bill might mean down the line, and he wants to look into the details of a commission the bill would create that would be charged with drafting a bill to set up a system of regulated pot sales.

“Highway safety is a big deal to me. Public safety is a big deal to me. Making sure that we don’t harm our children is a big deal to me,” he said.

Now, Scott has three choices.

He can sign the bill into law — a move that would signify at least some measure of support for the proposal.

He could veto the bill, which would send it back to the Legislature. Lawmakers would have the opportunity to override the veto if at least two-thirds of the membership of each chamber voted in favor.

Based on past votes in the House, where the bill passed by a 13-vote margin, it is highly unlikely supporters would be able to muster enough support to override the veto.

Or Scott could withhold his signature and allow the legislation to pass into law unsigned.

If Scott does not decide to sign or veto by the end of next Wednesday, it will be enacted. (The five-day window does not include Sundays.)

The governor says there is a difference between signing a bill into law and allowing it to pass without a signature.

“One is, you’re somewhat enthusiastically endorsing the bill,” he said. “The other is, you know, almost putting up a white flag.”

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis said signing the bill into law would give Scott the opportunity to take some credit for any benefits marijuana legalization might produce down the line.

Similarly, a veto would garner some favor among opponents of legalization, which include powerful law enforcement and medical associations, Davis said.

If Scott lets the bill pass into law, he quite possibly will have another chance to veto another marijuana bill next year, if lawmakers follow through with the effort to create a tax-and-regulate system, Davis said.

Public opinion polls have found that a majority of Vermonters tend to favor a change in marijuana laws, Davis said, referencing a 2016 survey by VPR and the Castleton Polling Institute in which 55 percent of respondents supported legalization.

“I think the bulk of the population probably supports legalization,” Davis said.

There are some people on either side of the issue who feel very intensely, he said. On the other hand, loosening marijuana policies is not a priority for most Vermonters, who tend to see the economy, taxes, health care and the environment as more pressing he said.

“If you rank issues according to their salience, marijuana is not one of the top three issues,” he said.

Whatever Scott chooses to do with S.22, Davis does not expect it will have a big impact in the next election.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • robert bristow-johnson

    Well, Guv, there’s

    Door number 1
    Door number 2 and
    Door number 3 .

    And we only get to see what’s behind the door you choose. i suspect it’s the same behind two of three doors.

    Please choose wisely.

  • John farrell

    “The bulk of the voters support the legislation”
    Well then Mr Scott you should sign the bill and support what the voters want….that is democracy.
    As far as the legislators who do NOT support the bill…..go look for another job.

    • waltermoses38

      Not that I really care either way. We have been told by VSIRG (S=special interest), Shumlin, legislators who had an interest and certain other conservation groups, that Vermonters support industrial wind. I think the last election put the end to that notion.
      Some of these people did get another job. Some need to.

      • JohnGreenberg

        “I think the last election put the end to that notion.
        Some of these people did get another job.” The overwhelming majority of them kept their jobs, despite predictions from folks like you. The election results, confirmed by the polls, DID show “that Vermonters support industrial wind”

  • Catherine Antley

    Dr. Karen Randall Colorado ER doctor: “Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for the opportunity to share some of my experiences as a physician in a region with heavy legal marijuana use.

    In 2012, Coloradans voted to pass Colorado Amendment 64 which led to the state-wide legalization of recreational marijuana beginning in January of 2014. Since then, the number of medical and recreational dispensaries in Colorado has grown to more than double the number of McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. While individual counties could and did choose to abstain from allowing recreational marijuana sales, my county, Pueblo, was one of many that embraced Amendment 64 and the projected benefits of recreational legalization, even unofficially rebranding itself the “Napa Valley of Pot”.

    This led to an influx of people looking to smoke without the risk of legal consequences and to cash in on the burgeoning “pot economy”. Unfortunately, many of these people arrived only to find that the supply of marijuana-related jobs was far outweighed by the demand, and few had backup plans. Since 2014, Pueblo’s homeless population has tripled, and our low-income housing have occupancy rates of 98% or more. We have seen a drastic increase in the number of homeless camps, and social services and outreach programs are buckling under the strain.

    Our medical infrastructure is also reaching critical mass. Out of the 160,000 residents of our community, roughly 115,000 are on Medicaid. As a result, we have been losing primary care providers at an alarming and unsustainable rate. The largest local clinic has been looking to hire 15 new doctors, but has only been able to hire 1 in the past two and a half years. My emergency medical group has been able to fill less than half of our open positions. The average wait time to see a new primary care provider is months with the wait for a specialist even longer, and many primary care physicians in the area are no longer taking new Medicaid patients.

    Additionally, the legalization of marijuana has led to normalization of behavior that in my professional opinion is strongly impacting our youth. Despite sales being legally restricted to

    those ages 21 and over, the Healthy Kids Survey of 2015 shows: 16% of Pueblo High School kids under the age of 13 have tried marijuana, 30% of high school kids had smoked within 30 days of the survey, 64% feel that it would be easy or very easy to get marijuana, and that 6.3 and 6.6% of respondents have used heroin and methamphetamines respectively, compared to 2% for the rest of Colorado. The number of ED visits for cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, accidental pediatric ingestions, accidental adult ingestions and psychosis have sharply risen. There has been an increase in the number of babies testing positive for marijuana at birth (many internet and dispensaries are now recommending marijuana for nausea in pregnancy).

    The potency of marijuana has risen tremendously since legalization, which is also a cause for significant concern. Almost all of what we do know about marijuana is based on studies where the marijuana was 1-3 mg of THC. Currently, dabbing provides 80-90 mg of THC; edibles provide 10 mg THC per bite and are frequently packaged in quantities to total 100 mg of THC.

    Fortunately, legislation has passed so that edibles must be packaged in safety packages and can no longer be sold as appealing candy gummies, suckers, etc. Currently, law requires that chocolate be labeled with a stamp and dose quantity but it still looks like a chocolate bar to a child.

    Ads and claims to the health benefits of marijuana are rampant on the internet with reported cures for almost every ailment, yet there is very little research, if any to support those “health benefits” and frequently people come to the area with a disease process (for instance, Parkinson’s disease) and purchase marijuana. Many of those looking for cures are seniors who are not toleratant to the dosage/strength of the current marijuana being marked and they come to the ED with side effects.

    I deeply appreciate having been given a platform to share my experiences with you today, and I strongly encourage the physicians of Vermont to consider the broader medical, economic, and social ramifications of the legalization of marijuana.

    Thank you for your attention,

    Dr. Karen Randall, FAAEM

    Southern Colorado Emergency Medicine Associates

    Pueblo Colorado.”

    • Mark Godfrey

      Boy that’s a whole lot of words to cover a non-toxic houseplant.

    • JustinTurco

      This is information that people would prefer not to hear. I know a few burnouts. I’d rather not normalize this and give kids one more reason to start down the road of drug use. Thanks for posting.

    • David Zuckerman

      All good reasons to have a well regulated system. Right now all of these issues are possible through the underground system. We can and will learn from the issues in Colorado, but that is not a reason to bury our heads in the sand. As far as the testing results that are given by the Doctor, there is not information regarding before and after. My understanding is that statewide risk behavior studies for youth show that the rates are not changing. But we can do better, we can use the resources (from the someday T and R that we will pass with or without the commission) for better youth prevention and an honest conversation with our youth. As for the homeless increase due to the “gold rush” of people looking for work, the more states that move this above board, the more disseminated that population will be. With California on board, I don’t see VT becoming that mecca.

  • Ned Pike

    This is a conflicting choice. The recent history tells us that “legalization” is a growing wave, yet until the Federal laws are changed all we do with “legalization” is to point out people for the DEA/FBI to arrest/indict/convict.

    While I am not against state-level “legalization” or “decriminalization” (I use the scare quotes because the Feds don’t care about State law), the only way this will ever be settled is on the Federal level. There are no pharmacological reasons for MJ being on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (Sch. 1 means abusive only with no potential redeeming medical uses), yet it remains there.

    Here’s the sticking point. At present, advancement into the senior ranks of DEA/FBI pretty much requires large-scale pot busts on your record. When that is no longer a crime …

    I leave that to your imagination.

  • Gary Murdock

    Count me as one who would like to see a veto. I was neutral on H170, it seemed like a reasonable solution to the issue. And then came the Senator that insists on a regulated market…being what the house speaker just accused Governor Scott of being…petulant. So now we have a bill that will absolutely result in a regulated market in the not so distant future, and that is something I do not want to see. Go spend a weekend hanging out in a hotel in Denver as I often have to do, then tell me if that’s something a typical family with young kids will want to be exposed to. The Denver area is a place that I would absolutely never bring my family to for vacation. Let Mass and Maine have the marijuana tourist’s, Vermont will see an increase in a better class of tourist. And all you supporters can thank the petulant Senator Sears when this gets vetoed.

    • Glenn Thompson

      Gary, I’m curious. aren’t hotels in the Denver area….smoke free?

      • Gary Murdock

        They sure are, but that doesn’t stop some from opening the window and smoking. It’s also illegal there to smoke marijuana in public. In my experience enforcement of the laws governing use in public are minimal at best, same will happen here.

        • Scott Kay

          Sounds like many are to blame Gary.
          No one in Denver seems to be obeying or enforcing the rules out there!

    • Mark Godfrey

      There is a 7-11 that sells alcohol next to my kids school. No one cares. Turns out kids can’t tunnel underneath buildings.

  • Mary Alice Bisbee

    As someone who strongly supports the Senate version of this bill and not the House bill, perhaps there is a fourth choice.
    4. Scott could change the date of implementation of the part allowing personal possession, that goes into affect on July 1st, 2017 to July 1st, 2018, thus stalling any action for another year! A study commission is a great idea and one that can further put things in order for passage next year.
    As someone who had a severe psychotic episode after smoking a pipe filled with something called pot one time, at age 34, having a huge rush and then becoming psychotic, hospitalized for several months and labeled “schizophrenic”, , given all sorts of horrible medications, I question what passes for pot these days, or any time!
    We need strict regulations as to purity of product to avoid such happenings for anyone, not just teenagers!
    I believe in legalization but without adequate education and regulations to require product purification, it should be delayed until we know much more about how to regulate it and provide highway safety as well..
    Go for it, Governor Scott!!!

    • Rick Veitch

      S.22 goes into effect July 1, 2018.

    • Catherine Antley

      “regulated Colorado” has the highest concentrated THC pot on the face of the earth. Erase the word ” legalization ” It delivers Vermonts ‘s children’s minds to a huge, ruthless, industry driven by greed. Decriminalization is a better path. It could be changed slightly. Remember NH, Minn, Connecticut and Maryland ALL defeated legalization this year, choosing to protect their highways and schools and not offer their kids minds up to an unscrupulous, destructive, industry whose demands will only grow after they are given legal standing, using highly paid out of state Monsanto sized law firm with unlimited funds to sue your local school or town select board for the zoning to put a pot shop near your daughters school or for their commercial free speech rights to advertise industrialized crack pot…think decriminalization NOT legalization. It is a no brainer.

      • Mark Godfrey

        So…..legalize the owning but not the buying? Isn’t that a drug dealer’s dream? How will that help at all, won’t that just cause the black market to thrive quasi-legally?

    • Mary Alice Bisbee, Thank you for supporting legalization. We have studied this issue to death. I can provide you with more studies than you are willing to read. I am a registered patient who uses cannabis every day. What you smoked was as you have described it, “something called pot”. You do not know what you smoked. You were by your own words drugged when you were hospitalized. There will always be individuals who cannot use any substance. Your experience however negative for you does not justify the prohibition of a substance that has been proven to be safer than alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals. Today the youth of Vermont has more access to cannabis that has not been tested than most adults. Much of this product comes from outside Vermont. Vermonter’s and others who visit our state have used cannabis for decades. We have safe highways as proven by studies that I have seen. We do not have our hospitals flooded with cannabis consumers. The regulated market could have been included this year with the passage of H.490 that would have included all who want to participate in this new market. We do not want to see limited licensing. We already have a medical program that has become a monopoly. The product coming out of at least 2 of the current medical dispensaries has been contaminated by mold and bugs. Home Grow gives Vermonters who choose to use cannabis control over the purity of the plants and will redirect money formerly spent in the “black” market, into our current economy. Home Grow first! Open inclusive, structured retail in 2018.

    • Mark Godfrey

      What?! We’ve been studying this harmless plant for 200 years or more. The British sent a team to India in the 1800s. They found it was harmless. Nixon had the Shaffer Commission. They said it was harmless. In the 1960s there was a 10,000% increase in marijuana usage, and psychosis stayed 1.5% of the population.

      Just like the 50 other commissions to look at it. Unlike alcohol, it’s a harmless plant.

      No more studies. Just free adults.

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    “Scott said on one hand, he believes adults should be able to do what
    they wish in their own homes so long as no danger is posed to others.”
    That really says it all…hopefully he’ll follow through on his conviction.

  • Jamie Carter

    Legalizing marijuana makes sense. We have surrounding states where it will be legal. People will be able to go buy it, smoke it, and drive home. That happens either way.

    We have police enforcement trained to spot drugged drivers. Let them do their jobs, and have faith they are capable of doing so.

    There are many medical issues that can be effectively treated with marijuana. Many many more then is allowed for medical marijuana. Legalizing allows for adults to use a medication that has very few side effects.

    Legalizing marijuana results in few opiate overdoses. It is not a magic wand, but it is a piece of the answer in managing the opiate problem.

    Legalize its growth and use for those wishing to use it. We are born with the right to liberty, allow people to use it within their own homes if they so choose.

  • Nicole Boar

    I expect Scott to sign that bill into law…..and it’s about time, too

  • Julia Purdy

    No doubt George Orwell is a hero to many of you. Orwell’s father, Richard Blair (Orwell changed his name from Blair), was a high-ranking colonial official in the India Service. Orwell’s biographer had this to say: “Although the high-minded Victorian defenders of imperialism were reluctant to admit it, British India profited enormously from the sale of opium. … the government’s opium monopoly in Bengal was producing four thousand tons of the narcotic annually, and nearly every ounce was destined for China’s cramped slums where millions of addicts smoked it. The trade … produced roughly one-sixth of the government’s total revenue for India. … As one historian put it: ‘Politically, the British Raj was as addicted to opium as any twenty-pipe-a-day coolie.’ Mr. Blair was a loyal, efficient servant of this trade, and there is no sign that he ever had any serious doubts or regrets about the nature of his work.”
    Mind-altering, energy-robbing drugs, legal or illegal, have been used since there have been governments to keep the people down and out. Marijuana is simply the “acceptable substitute.”

    • Jerry Kilcourse

      “Marijuana is simply the “acceptable substitute.” Why not add alcohol and tobacco? As far as opium goes, there is no comparison between it and marijuana, unlike OxyContin.

  • Tom E Canavan

    If he has to make an announcement, then you know it will mean a veto. Otherwise, he would just ignore it.