Politics

Scott creates 13-member panel to look at pot legalization

Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday created a commission of 13 members, with additional subcommittee participants, to study marijuana legalization in Vermont.

The commission was formed as part of an executive order creating a commission to be co-chaired by Tom Little, a Republican who formerly represented Shelburne in the House, and former Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Jake Perkinson.

“As I’ve said before, I’m not philosophically opposed to eliminating the prohibition on recreational use by adults,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott said he believes “we have an obligation to learn from the experiences of other states, and have comprehensive education and highway safety protocols in place before moving to a fully taxed and regulated recreational-use marketplace. We must ensure that any approach we take prioritizes public health and safety, particularly the health implications for our children, and the need to ensure safety on our roadways.”

Reporting to the commission will be three subcommittees: on highway safety issues that legalization could raise; public health including impacts on youth; and how to tax and regulate marijuana.

Legalization bills have passed the Vermont Senate five times in the past two years. One passed the House as well but drew a veto from Scott. A final push during a special session in June stalled in the House, but legislation will be up for action in that chamber when lawmakers return in January.

Scott said in June after the latest effort fizzled that he was likely to appoint a commission to continue the conversation on legalization, and he appears to be feeling some pressure from the fact that nearby states are moving forward. Voters in Massachusetts and Maine passed referendum measures in November to legalize pot, and retail outlets selling it are expected to be open in those states by next summer.

“We cannot ignore the fact that states around us have already legalized,” the governor said in his statement Thursday. “This commission is part of a more thoughtful, deliberative process to deal with an issue that impacts all of us.”

Laura Subin, director of the pro-legalization Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, said Thursday she hoped Scott’s appointment of a commission — and his issuance of a long list of study assignments for it and its subcommittees — would not result in further delay of legalization.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a leader on legalization efforts, said lawmakers have already studied many of the issues Scott has asked the commission to address. In addition, he said, a consultant, the Rand Corp., has done its own examination and supplied an extensive report to the state.

“I feel in many ways that some of the work the commission is being assigned we’ve already gone over,” Sears said.

Efforts Thursday to reach the Vermont Medical Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Vermont chapter, both of which have opposed marijuana legalization, were unsuccessful.

Matt Simon of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project said he was not concerned that the study commission’s work might delay legalization. He said the legislation pending in the House simply would say that possession of a small amount of marijuana or number of plants for personal use in Vermont would not be a crime.

Many of the logistical details on how a regulated market might work or what tools police could use to guard against stoned driving were expected to be worked out after marijuana was legalized, Simon said, and those were the details Scott called Thursday for the commission to study.

Subin said she was grateful to have a seat on the subcommittee on taxation and regulation of marijuana, but called it concerning that most of the other seats on the study panels would be filled with state and law enforcement officials and representatives of groups on record as opposed to legalization.

Simon said he wasn’t worried. Legalization advocates, he said, will “go in, put our best foot forward and assume that that eventually will result in good policy.”

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