Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) has vetoed legislation that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use, delivering a blow to legalization backers who hoped Vermont would be the next domino to fall.
Scott told reporters during a press conference Wednesday that he is not strictly opposed to legalization, but he said he would ask the legislature to make changes to the bill.
“I’m not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana,” Scott said, according to local news outlets.
Vermont legislators are unlikely to override Scott’s veto of the measure, which passed by only a narrow margin.
Legalization advocates took solace in Scott’s comments, which they said could lead to a new bill as early as July.
“We are disappointed by the governor’s decision to veto this widely supported legislation, but we are very encouraged by the governor’s offer to work with legislators to pass a legalization bill during the summer veto session,” said Matt Simon, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Lawmakers have an opportunity to address the governor’s concerns and pass a revised bill this summer, and we are excited about its prospects.”
The Vermont legislature’s passage of the bill was a landmark moment in the growing trend toward loosening marijuana laws. The state’s lawmakers were the first in the nation to send a bill legalizing pot to a governor’s desk. The other eight states where marijuana is legal all passed their measures through citizen initiatives.
“The fact that a bill even ended up on the governor’s desk signals a new phase of the marijuana legalization movement,” said Tom Angell, founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority. “Our momentum has now reached a point where the issue has become so popular with voters at the ballot box that more politicians are feeling comfortable enough to grapple with it themselves.”
Opponents of the legislation thanked Scott for killing the bill, but they said they worried about a possible follow-up.
“Our work is not over,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. “We will be working very closely with our allies to make sure any piece of legislation does not allow Big Marijuana to come to Vermont.”
Scott said he wanted to see tougher penalties for illegal sales of marijuana to minors. He also wants to give regulators more time to study what has worked and what hasn’t in other states where marijuana has been legalized.
The bill as written would make possessing a small amount of marijuana legal by July 2018. Scott said he would ask legislators to give a state commission at least a year to study best practices before making its recommendations.