Work Begins on Crafting New Vermont Marijuana Bill | Off Message

Work Begins on Crafting New Vermont Marijuana Bill

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Days after Gov. Phil Scott vetoed marijuana legalization legislation, the work of making adjustments to the bill is already under way.

Key legislators and marijuana legalization advocates met Thursday and Friday with Scott's staff to discuss changes he asked for when he vetoed the measure on Wednesday.

As now written, the bill would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older. It would also allow adults to grow at home two mature plants. The legislation, which would go into effect July 2018, would not legalize marijuana sales.

In announcing the veto, Scott said he's seeking a few revisions, like beefing up penalties for using marijuana around children and extending the deadline for a commission to study full pot legalization in Vermont. Those changes could be made in time for the legislature's planned June 21 veto session.

The quick timeframe and Scott's newfound willingness to work on legalization have sent signals that pot proponents find promising.

"I think it's clear something different is going on here," said Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We would have preferred it if they'd been at the table back in February, but the glass is half-full ... or three-quarters full."

Simon was among five marijuana advocates who met for about an hour Friday with members of the governor's staff, including legal counsel Jaye Pershing Johnson, legislative liaison Kendal Smith and communications assistant Ethan Latour. The group discussed the revisions Scott mentioned Wednesday, according to Simon.

"These are not drastic changes," said Dave Silberman, a Middlebury lawyer and marijuana legalization advocate who was also in the meeting. Silberman said he remains wary that Scott could seek further changes that would derail the new bill, but "for now I'm willing to take him at his word."

Scott staffers on Thursday met with key legislators and a legislative lawyer. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said some legal wording in the revisions still needs to be vetted, but he found the discussion encouraging. "There is a path forward," Sears said.

But there is also a potential obstacle. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has said he would be unwilling to suspend rules that would allow the bill to pass entirely during the planned two-day veto session in June.

Rebecca Kelley, Scott's spokeswoman, said the sides could circumvent that obstruction. One option, she noted, would be to extend the veto session beyond two days so that no rule suspension is needed.

"We believe there's a path forward either way," she said.

Another possibility, Sears said, is for Scott to create the study commission by executive order. Lawmakers could then wait until January, when they reconvene for the session, to pass the legalization portion of the bill — and still make it effective in July 2018.

It's also possible that enough House Republicans will disagree with Turner to provide the three-fourths majority needed to suspend the rules. Rep. Corey Parent (R-St. Albans) said if the governor can agree with lawmakers on a bill, he'd likely vote to suspend the rules — even though he might still vote against the bill. "Why drag this out?" Parent said.


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