Scott Picks Democratic, Republican Lawyers to Lead Marijuana Panel | Off Message

Scott Picks Democratic, Republican Lawyers to Lead Marijuana Panel


  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott has appointed two lawyers, both of whom have long been involved in Vermont public policy, to head a new commission tasked with studying marijuana legalization.

Tom Little, a former Republican state representative from Shelburne, and Jake Perkinson, a former Democratic Party chairman from Burlington, will lead the 13-member panel.

Scott, a Republican, vetoed legalization legislation earlier this year. He pledged to appoint a commission that would look particularly at the impact of legalization on youths and highway safety, two concerns he cited as reasons for his veto.

Scott directed the commission to start meeting by October and to produce an initial report by January 15. Members are appointed to three-year terms to continue studying various aspects of legalization.

Scott requested that the commission provide recommendations for implementing a taxed and regulated system for legal marijuana by December 15, 2018. That date comes after the next election, when Scott will be seeking his second two-year term as governor.

The Scott administration will hold five seats on the panel representing various state agencies and departments. The House and Senate
Jake Perkinson - FILE
  • File
  • Jake Perkinson
will each appoint two members. The attorney general and Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs will also each have a seat.

Scott instructed the commission to create three subcommittees to study roadway safety, education and prevention, and taxation and regulation. Those groups will have additional members from various organizations.

“There is a need for a thoughtful and thorough consideration of public health, public safety and financial resource issues” in assessing legalization, Scott said in an executive order creating the panel.

Some critics worried Scott created the commission to provide ammunition for quashing legalization efforts.

Perkinson disagreed. “What was impressed on me was the governor just wants the best possible answers to the questions out there,” he said.

Perkinson said his and Scott’s views on marijuana legalization are aligned. “I don’t personally use,” he said. “At the same time, I recognize it’s something that’s happening. I do have a problem with going about it willy-nilly.”

As the father of children ages 11 and 14, Perkinson said he worries that legalization will increase their exposure to the drug.

Tom Little - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Tom Little
Perkinson has been a supporter of medical marijuana and is a former Champlain Valley Dispensary board member. He said he believes that medical marijuana can reduce patients’ pain.

Little, who is vice president and general counsel of the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (and provides legal counsel to Seven Days), has served on several state panels. He led the House Judiciary Committee during passage of civil unions, the 2000 precursor to same-sex marriage.

Little said he doesn’t use marijuana and doesn’t have a stance on whether it should be legal; he’s only followed the debate from afar. “It should be regulated if it happens,” he said.

Little said Scott persuaded him to serve on the commission by arguing that the state should be prepared for legalization, not to mention that the drug was recently legalized in nearby Massachusetts and Maine.

Dave Silberman, a Middlebury lawyer who has been lobbying for legalization, said he is wary of the governor’s commission, not because of the appointments, but because of Scott’s unwillingness to advocate for changes to the bill he vetoed.

“The question is not so much whether Tom Little and Jake Perkinson are good choices as cochairs, but whether Gov. Scott is merely looking for more stall tactics and further excuses to continue the failed war on drugs,” Silberman said. “Based on his past actions and broken promises, he should not be given the benefit of the doubt.”