Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) made history today by signing a bill to legalize recreational marijuana. That makes Vermont the 9th state to allow recreational use, and the first to do so through the state legislature instead of via ballot initiative.
But Governor Scott isn't thrilled about the historical event.
“Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed H. 511," Scott wrote in a signing statement after approving the bill in private. Scott made the decision to sign it behind closed doors because he didn't think it was appropriate to hold a signing ceremony for the controversial legislation. “[S]ome people don’t feel that this is a momentous occasion,” the governor explained prior to the event, adding, “the main thing is I will sign it.”
Those people undoubtedly include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been pushing to crack down on states that have defied federal cannabis prohibition by legalizing recreational use. But the critics also include Scott himself, who originally vetoed the legislation because he didn't think it was tough enough on high drivers and people who provide marijuana to minors.
Although he has come onboard with the revised bill now that the penalties have been beefed up, Governor Scott warned the legislature that he would not consider expanding the regime to include a recreational market unless the regulations are robust enough to keep Vermont's streets and schoolyards safe.
"There must be comprehensive and convincing plans completed in these areas before I will begin to consider the wisdom of implementing a commercial 'tax and regulate' system for an adult marijuana market," Governor Scott wrote. "It is important for the General Assembly to know that – until we have a workable plan to address each of these concerns – I will veto any additional effort along these lines, which manages to reach my desk."
What H.511 Means for Vermont
The lack of pomp and circumstance won't dampen the spirits of the state's cannabis consumers. But they will have to wait a little longer to celebrate since the law doesn't come into effect until summer.
As of July 1, adults 21 or older will legally be allowed to possess up to an ounce of dried marijuana and grow up to four plants at home (though only two can be mature). The sale of recreational marijuana will remain illegal in the Green Mountain State for now, but that could change in the near future if a commission currently studying the issue recommends pursuing a retail market. So don't plan a canna-vacation to Vermont this year, unless you know a local who's willing to share their stash.
Repealing prohibition also allows state law enforcers to focus their time and limited resources on more pressing issues than busting people for smoking a joint. And that move will undoubtedly influence nearby states to consider reforming their marijuana laws as well.
“This is a great step forward for the state and the whole region," Matt Simon — New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project said via press release. "Responsible adults will soon have the freedom to enjoy a safer option legally, and law enforcement will be free to concentrate on serious crimes with actual victims. We are looking forward to working with lawmakers and state leaders to continue improving marijuana laws in the Green Mountain State.”
Governor Scott's signature makes Vermont becomes the 9th state to legalize recreational marijuana and the first to do so since the number of legal states jumped from 4 to 8 on Election Day 2016. Vermont will likely be joined later this year by New Jersey as well as up to six other states.
Banner Image: CommonGood Vermont