Written by Kenzo
Vermont and its House of Representatives almost made history this month, as the first state to approve the status of Recreational cannabis from the state legislature level, via the S. 22 measure which passed through a 79-66 vote held by the General Assembly of Vermont’s House of Representatives, a bill which could potentially make Vermont the ninth US state to approve the legalization of recreational cannabis. The decision to push forward the legislation had been reached by both chambers on May 10th, 2017. This meant that the Governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, was next in the succession of checks and balances, and his approval was required for the bill to pass as law in the state of Vermont. Governor Scott had the ability to approve, veto or allow the bill to pass-through without opposition. With much anticipation, Vermont and Governor Scott made his decision on the deadline, May 24th, 2017, to reject the current version of the bill.
The measure which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, two mature plants and four immature plants, and provide Vermont citizens with the ability to grow, share the plant among friends, and allow for the roll-out of the regulated retail market for adult-use. In early statements, Governor Scott shared his skepticism, having concerns about health & public safety, nonetheless, he does not philosophically oppose the cannabis legalization initiative. To date, eight US states have decriminalized cannabis through voter reform; a process requiring the drafting of bills written by legislative aides, i.e. lobbyists, and introduced by a Member of Congress for consideration and ultimately, voter referendum. What made this bill unique is that unlike its allied states with parallel recreational legislation, Vermont would have become the first recreational cannabis state which originated and passed its bill at the state legislative level, rather than through voter reform, a strategy utilized by the first eight states: i.e. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, and the District of Columbia.
According to a survey of 755 registered voters conducted by the Public Policy Polling in March 2017, 57% of Vermontian’s supported the legalization of the plant, while 39 percent opposed it. "It's a slower and difficult process," says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "But the reality is that prohibition has failed in Vermont, and the majority of Vermonters are ready to move on with a new approach."
Neighboring states, Maine and Massachusetts, are currently prepping for the introduction of the recreational cannabis market in 2018. "The fact that Massachusetts and Maine are both moving forward with legalization and expected to have retail stores open next year is part of what's accelerated the conversation in Vermont," says Simon. With the close proximity of neighboring states, Simon feels that the state of Vermont can positively affect the way citizens of Vermont are able to source clean cannabis safely. "Does it make sense to continue punishing those people? Probably not," he says, noting that through the measure, Vermont will stimulate economic development, jobs and tax revenue. "One of the benefits that comes with regulating and taxing marijuana is not having money leave the state, instead of going into cash registers in Maine." proclaims Simon.
Politician and cannabis advocate, Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, has been working on cannabis law reform for the past 20 years – yes 20 years, and thank you Mr. Zuckerman; "We would have a far better handle on the use of this product if it were in a legal and regulated system," says Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman. While he and the governor have a "solid mutual respect," Zuckerman says Scott had chosen not to include him in the S. 22 decision-making process. Nevertheless, it is very clear that the lieutenant governor is in full support of the bill.
"We'd have a cleaner product," Governor Zuckerman says. "We'd have money for all forms of impaired driving interdiction, resources for opiate or any form of drug addiction treatment, and money for higher education and economic development, which is the best method of drug abuse prevention."
Despite threats by the current administration to tackle the recreational cannabis industry, cannabis reform has more or less become the popular consensus. It is up to the “policy makers and advocates who want to have a good cannabis paradigm in their state need to be proactive," says says Eli Harrington, cannabis advocate and co-founder of Heady Vermont. "The tipping point has happened, cannabis is building schools, not killing people."
The commission has until June 21st, 2017, to prepare for it’s veto session hearing.
MAY 24TH, 2017: FULL TRANSCRIPT OF VERMONT GOVERNOR PHIL SCOTT’S PRESS CONFERENCE
“We should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our highways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse our communities are already facing. From my vantage point, S. 22 does not yet adequately address these questions, therefore, I am returning this bill to the legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward, that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves to a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market. I’ll be providing the legislature with recommended changes, and to be clear, if they are willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.
Those recommendations include the following:
First, in an attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol, this bill appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors. Sections of this bill must be rewritten to make clear that the existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana minors and on school grounds, remain unchanged. Weakening these and penalties should totally unacceptable to even the most hardened legalization advocates.
Second, I am asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors. For example, this bill states that one cannot use marijuana in a vehicle, but if an adult is smoking with a child in the car, there is only a small fine equal to the penalty for an adult having an open container of alcohol. We must acknowledge that marijuana is not alcohol, and it is not tabacco. How we protect children from the new classification of this substance is incredibly important. This is not just a concern about impaired driving, according to the best science available in our own Department of Health, second-hand marijuana smoke can negatively impact a child’s brain development. Therefore, if an adult is smoking marijuana in a car with a child, in my view, that should include a more severe punishment.
Third, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission section must be enhanced in order to to be taken more seriously. It must include a broader membership, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse & treatment community. The commission itself must be charged with determining outcomes; such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle and an impairment testing mechanism, and education and prevention strategy to address use by minors, and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impact to public health.
In its work to develop a regulated system, the commission must also produce a detailed estimate of the general fund revenue required for the adequate regulation, enforcement, administration, education and prevention recommendations it shall make. As the bill currently stands, legislation for a regulated system would be introduced before the personal possession and cultivation laws have even changed. I believe the commission should be allowed to take more to thoughtfully complete its work on this complex issue. Given the gravity of this policy change, I would like to see the commission have at least a year before making final recommendations. I want to reiterate that we can all work together on this issue in a thoughtful and responsible way.”
Watch full video via the following link: mynbc5.com