Vermont Lawmakers Will Push To Legalize Pot, Against Gov.-Elect Scott's Urging

Nov 15, 2016

Two key lawmakers say they plan to resume the push to legalize cannabis in Vermont, but Governor-elect Phil Scott is urging them not to waste their time on the measure.

In the 2016 legislative session, Vermont had a governor who wanted to legalize cannabis, and a Legislature that wasn’t ready to come along.

Now, it looks like lawmakers might be ready to move ahead with a legalization bill in 2017. This time, though, it’s the state’s incoming Republican governor that might hold them back.

“I’m not looking to move forward on this initiative this year,” Scott said a few days after his nine-point win in the race for governor.

Last year, the Vermont House rejected legislation that would have legalized cannabis, and treated it in much the same way as alcohol. Scott is well aware that many legislators looking to resurrect that measure in 2017.

“I hope they hear me loud and clear, that we need to make sure that we determine impairment on the highways, the tax structure, deal with the edibles issue and some of the other ripple effects of this,” Scott says.

But Sen. Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says outside factors are forcing the state’s hand.

“For me, that’s a game-changer, that Massachusetts has voted to legalize,” Sears says.

Voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot initiative last week that will see retail marijuana outlets open in that state beginning in 2018. Sears says that means residents in southern Vermont will effectively have access to a legal cannabis market.

“All the bad things that people predicted last year if we passed legalization are going to happen in Bennington and Windham county,” Sears says.

"For me, that’s a game-changer, that Massachusetts has voted to legalize." — Sen. Dick Sears, Bennington County

What Vermont won’t get, Sears says, are the good things that come with taxing and regulating cannabis. Sears says if marijuana is going to become widely available no matter what Vermont does, then it increases the urgency to develop a tax structure and regulatory regime tailored to the specific needs of this state.

Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad is chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Grad was unable to muster the votes needed to pass the legalization bill in the House during the past session. She says the advent of legalization in Massachusetts will make House lawmakers far more amenable to a tax-and-regulate bill in Vermont.