Vermont is on pace to become the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.
In 2017, the state fell just short of doing so. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.
Advocates believe they can quickly move the bill through the House under regular order once the legislative reconvenes early next month.
And Scott, in an interview on Friday, said he was still “comfortable” with the plan.
“It’s not a high priority for me, but I did make a commitment that I was supportive of the bill that was put together,” he said of the revised legislation during an appearance on Vermont Public Radio.
All eight states that have ended cannabis prohibition to date have done so via ballot measures approved by voters. Reform supporters think that either Vermont or New Jersey, where Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization, will be the first state to end prohibition through an act of lawmakers.
Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization.
New Jersey lawmakers, on the other hand, are expected to consider full-scale commercial legalization right away, something that Murphy repeatedly argued on the campaign trail is necessary to undermine the illegal market.
Because Vermont’s compromise bill has already cleared one chamber and now just needs approval from the other, the state seems poised to get its legislation across the finish line sooner than the Garden State can act.
However, in the Friday interview Scott said that it might make sense to further tweak the compromise bill before lawmakers send it to his desk in 2018.
That’s because during the legislative recess he proactively created a marijuana legalization study commission via executive order.
“Part of that bill is no longer needed,” Scott said, referring to its commission provisions.
While saying that he hasn’t “spoken to legislative leaders” about it, the governor suggested they might want to “make some changes on the floor, send it back to committee, make some alterations and then we’ll see what they either add or delete and then we’ll see if it’s the same as what I committed to pushing forward with.”
Accomplishing those changes likely would not take very long given that a consensus between legislative leaders and Scott on getting legalization enacted seemed to crystalize during the 2017 session.
In the radio interview, Scott also discussed concerns about “determining impairment on our highways, regardless of what the substance is,” something he has consistently raised.
“Whether we legalize [marijuana] or not, we still have to face this,” he said.