Vermont on the Verge: Governor’s Veto of Adult Use Bill Leaves Variety of Options

By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor for New Frontier Data

On Wednesday, Vermont Governor Phil Scott vetoed legislation which would have legalized the adult use of cannabis in the Green Mountain State, yet left open a window of opportunity for revisiting the matter next month.

“I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana,” Scott explained in a press conference announcing his move. “However, we must get this right.”

After entertaining extensive lobbying efforts from both sides for a week after the bill reached his desk, Scott issued the veto hours before the bill would otherwise have become law without his action. Vermont would have become the ninth state in the country to enable an adult use market, but the first one to do so purely through legislative action rather than any ballot measure. The law would have allowed Vermonters aged 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis, and to cultivate up to two mature plants.

“Perhaps he didn’t want Vermont to be the first to go this route, using the legislative process,” said Beau Whitney, senior economist at New Frontier Data. “The bottom line is that the state of Vermont will miss out on the economic benefit of cannabis and cannabis taxation it would have had. From an industry perspective, it’s disappointing but not surprising.” Nevertheless, he added, “this won’t be the end of it. The veto represents more of a delay to the market, rather than a death knell.”

As reported in New Frontier Data’s, The Cannabis Industry Annual Report: 2017 Legal Marijuana Outlook, Vermont has the country’s highest reported rate of cannabis usage, and a February 2016 poll found 55% of Vermonters supporting the legalization of an adult use market. The legislature attempted to pass adult use cannabis legalization in 2016, before the bill failed in the state house. Nevertheless, recent adult use legalization in Maine and Massachusetts, along with Canada’s anticipated opening of its nationwide adult use market in 2018, will increase pressure and legitimization for it in Vermont. Even without any passage of a bill this summer, Vermont is expected to legalize an adult use market within the next five years.

Scott explained that he had not been swayed by any lobbyists’ attempts, but rather by his own concerns over public safety and health issues. He specifically cited the need for clarity about the board that would regulate and tax the cannabis industry, and methods for preventing children from accessing products.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) went on record to say she was disappointed by Scott’s action, but added that “it could have been a veto and nothing else, so I do see it as an opening.”

Possibilities for the state’s lawmakers now include doing nothing, overriding the governor’s veto, crafting a compromise bill in time for a two-day veto session on June 21-22, or waiting to revisit the issue when the Vermont Legislature reconvenes in January 2018. The latter move would forestall the work of a state commission proposed in the bill to study tax and regulations before presenting recommendations by Nov. 1.

For now, though, the likeliest outcome seems that a legal market in Vermont will have to wait until 2019 at the earliest to open for sales.

J.J. McCoy, New Frontier Data Senior Managing Editor

J.J. McCoy

J.J. McCoy is Senior Managing Editor for New Frontier Data. A former staff writer for The Washington Post, he is a career journalist having covered emerging technologies among industries including aviation, satellites, transportation, law enforcement, the Smart Grid and professional sports. He has reported from the White House, the U.S. Senate, three continents and counting.

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