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.