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Coalition of justice organizations urge Gov. Scott to sign cannabis bills

Heady Vermont Staff
Heady Vermont Staff 5 Oct 2020

Full statement below from five racial justice, criminal justice, and social justice organizations
MONTPELIER — Five justice organizations —  ACLU of Vermont, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Middlebury Showing Up for Racial Justice, Women’s Justice and Freedom Initiative, and the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana —  issued a statement today urging Gov. Phil Scott (R) to sign S. 234 and S. 54 into law. It notes, “Taken together, these bills will make huge strides towards addressing the racist legacy of cannabis prohibition and disparate enforcement of our current cannabis laws.”

The coalition quotes a Friday statement from former state Representative Kiah Morris and her organization, Rights & Democracy, calling S. 54, “one of the most comprehensive and forward thinking attempts, addressing and repairing the historical harms of the war on drugs, and the devastating impacts on our nation.” They urge Gov. Scott to sign this bill into law, and, as the bill is implemented, ensure that the promises of racial justice are given full effect.

S. 234 would automatically expunge more than 10,000 low-level cannabis convictions and decriminalize an amount modestly exceeding the possession limit. S. 54 would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis sales while prioritizing licensing of small-scale cultivators and minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses.

An overwhelming majority of Vermonters support this legislation. A poll commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project in February 2020 found that 76 percent of Vermont residents support allowing adults 21 and over to purchase cannabis from regulated, tax-paying small businesses.

Gov. Scott has until Wednesday to sign or veto S. 54, or it would become law without his signature.  S. 234 has passed the legislature, but has not yet been transmitted to the governor’s desk.

Full Coalition of Justice Organizations’ Statement on S.234 and S.54

We urge Gov. Scott to sign the package of cannabis policy reform bills on his desk — S.234 and S. 54 — into law. Taken together, these bills will make huge strides towards addressing the racist legacy of cannabis prohibition and disparate enforcement of our current cannabis laws.

S. 234 would expunge the misdemeanor cannabis convictions of tens of thousands of Vermonters and free them from the devastating collateral consequences of those convictions in employment, housing, and social services.

S. 54 would create a system of taxed and regulated sales of cannabis that will promote the interests of individuals who have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition, create economic opportunity, and promote consumer safety.

We share the concerns and goals of advocates urging lawmakers to advance further racial justice initiatives when developing the tax and regulate system but disagree with the call to veto the bill and start over.  That would be a big setback for racial justice.  As former State Rep. Kiah Morris recently stated, “S. 54 is a bill that will change the national conversation around the legalization of cannabis and our entry into a regulated market. It is one of the most comprehensive and forward thinking attempts, addressing and repairing the historical harms of the war on drugs, and the devastating impacts on our nation.”  We join Rep. Morris and Rights and Democracy in asking Gov. Scott to sign this bill into law, and, as the bill is implemented, continue to engage the communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition to ensure that the promises of racial justice are given full effect.

Instead of vetoing the bill, the Governor should sign S. 54 and demand prioritization of racial justice in all aspects of its implementation. S. 54 creates a Cannabis Control Board with members that the Governor appoints. That Board has to report back to and get legislative approval of many aspects of the tax and regulate system before it could be implemented. Among other racial justice provisions in S. 54, there is a specific mandate that requires the Board to work with multiple agencies under the Governor’s control to develop programs to provide economic opportunities to individuals and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.

Overseeing the details of this program would be a tremendous way for the Governor to ensure that Vermont becomes a model for justice in the taxed and regulated sales of cannabis to adults.

Ongoing reform of cannabis policies is a justice imperative supported by an overwhelming number of Vermonters. We urge the Governor to ensure that progress is made.

ACLU of Vermont

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform

Middlebury Showing Up for Racial Justice

Women’s Justice and Freedom Initiative

Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana

The Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana is a broad coalition of citizens, organizations, and businesses working to end marijuana prohibition in Vermont and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed.

For Immediate Release
Sunday, October 4, 2020

Contact: Laura Subin
laura@regulatevermont.org

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