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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Both Sides In Marijuana Legalization Debate Try To Influence Scott's Decision

According to campaign finance disclosures, Republican Gov. Phil Scott has raised more than twice as much money toward his 2018 reelection bid than any of the other four candidates challenging him for the office.
Angela Evancie
VPR file
Supporters and opponents of the marijuana legalization bill that recently passed the Legislature have been flooding Gov. Phil Scott's office will calls.

As Gov. Phil Scott ponders the future of the marijuana legalization bill, both supporters and opponents of the legislation are calling the governor's office hoping to influence his decision.

Both sides are still actively working on this issue because this is a case where the governor hasn't made up his mind and feels that he needs to read the details of the bill before making a decision.

The legislation adopts the approach favored in the House that allows individuals to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow several plants. Meanwhile, the Senate strongly supported a full state regulatory system that includes retail stores and the taxation of marijuana.

This compromise bill legalizes personal possession in July 2018 and creates a commission that will study the Senate's regulatory option.

The panel will report back to lawmakers in November. Any of the commission's recommendations would be subject to further legislative approval.

Rebecca Kelley is Scott's communications director. She says opponents and supporters have been busy in the last week.

"It is something that we are getting calls on, it is something that advocates have certainly been putting out the word." — Rebecca Kelley, Communications Director for Gov. Phil Scott

"It is something that we're getting calls on,” said Kelley. “It is something that advocates have certainly been putting out the word.”

Kelley says the governor will consider many points of view before making a decision.

"What he learns from others, what he hears from others is always something that's a factor he considers and ultimately he'll make the decision on what he thinks is the best path forward for Vermont," said Kelley. 

Scott has three options: He could sign it, he could veto it or he could let it become law without his signature.

The governor's office hasn't formally received the bill yet. That's because the legislation is working its way through the proof-reading process at the Statehouse, which can take a week or more. When the governor does get the bill, he'll have five days to make a decision.

In a recent appearance on Vermont Edition, Scott made it very clear that he hasn't made up his mind. He made comments that indicated he might sign the bill.

"I have this libertarian streak in me that says you should be able to do whatever you want in your own home as long as it doesn't create any harm for others,” said Scott. “So maybe it's Yankee independence, maybe it's the libertarian streak, but I get that part."

Scott also made comments that indicated he might veto the legislation. That's because he believes the recommendations of the special commission will definitely lead to a state regulatory system and he's not sure Vermont is ready for that.

"I'm saying regardless of what happens with this bill, I'm still going to continue down that path of trying to do what we can." — Gov. Phil Scott on developing a driver marijuana impairment system

"It's clear that we're not just studying it, we're going to do it from their perspective,” said Scott. “I just believe that there are other ways that we can do this. Again, I think it's a big deal; we've got to get this right and we should take the time to do so."

Scott's third option is to let the bill become law without his signature. That would be a signal that he's not enthusiastic about the legislation but he doesn't dislike it enough to veto it.

“I can't put my head in the sand, it's going to happen at some point, Massachusetts, Maine have both determined that they'll legalize,” said Scott. “Canada is talking about this as well, so we're going to have to determine some of those issues before too long."   

No matter what Scott decides to do, he says he'll work to establish a regional approach to develop a marijuana driver impairment system.

"I've actually reached out to the Northeast governors and provinces to try to determine a level of impairment, a way to measure impairment as well,” said Scott. “So I'm saying regardless of what happens with this bill, I'm still going to continue down that path of trying to do what we can." 

It could be a couple of weeks before Vermonters learn which path Scott is going to take.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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