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MONTPELIER, Vt. — When Governor Phil Scott vetoed the Vermont legislature-passed historic S.22 legalization and study commission bill in May, he said clearly that he didn’t want to close the door completely on cannabis reform efforts for 2017 and that legislators could work with him to find ‘a way forward.’

At the time, Heady Vermont wondered out loud if our meeting and the possible way forward was, “Pathway or PR,” and if he meant that he just didn’t want to take the full blame for an unpopular veto.

Whatever his intention, when he vetoed the bill, he did at the very at least show legislators where those new goalposts were: more penalties for driving and consuming, more penalties for furnishing to minors, more of his appointees on the regulation commission, and pushing back the date of the commission’s recommendations to after the 2018 session. 

On Tuesday, legislators sent him a response that met those specific stipulations.

On Wednesday, Governor Scott moved the goal posts again, saying that he still wasn’t satisfied.

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While advocates fumed online, the Governor’s team put together a list of specific counter-proposals, which Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau reported on Thursday

The major point of contention appears to be the study commission, most notably the timeline they would have to report back on regulation recommendations. Despite the opening of Massachusetts’ legal market in July 2018, Governor Scott’s spokesperson indicated that the Governor would not want a commission to address — let alone implement — taxation and regulation questions until 2019.

The latest legislative compromise added to the commission members of the Departments of Public Safety, Tax and Health, exactly as the Governor had requested.

That apparently wasn’t enough as the latest version of the Governor’s commission would also include Secretary of Commerce Michael Schirling, the former Burlington Chief of Police.

Although Senator Dick Sears spoke positively about the considerations and both sides coming to a compromise, none of it will matter if there are not 100 votes (2/3) in the House to suspend the rules, allowing for the legislation to be considered and adding the requisite third day for the bill.

Considering that the original vote passed with 79 yes votes, convincing an extra 20 legislators to support the bill, including many Republicans who voted against S.22 and Democrats who may be miffed they’re even in a June budget session in the first place, and willing to let the Governor take sole responsibility for his veto.

The biggest factor, both politically and in terms of timing, and the real elephant in the room, is the Governor’s other veto: The state budget.

If those budget goalposts aren’t met, or at least a temporary compromise agreed upon, the State of Vermont will be constitutionally forbidden from spending a single dollar.

If one were to take Governor Phil Scott at his word, a state government shutdown won’t happen. He told WCAX last month that, “This isn’t D.C. and I will not shut down the state government over this issue.”

For cannabis advocates, it’s yet another move in a long and drawn out game of compromise back-and-forth, as legislative work stretches into the long days of summer. Regardless of whether S.22 makes the final mile this session, Vermont has both captivated the nation and swung the pendulum mightily forward, with legislators from both houses whispering of inevitable legalization just around the bend for the Green State.

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