Deadline Looms for Gov. Scott’s Decision on Cannabis Bills
MONTPELIER — With tomorrow’s deadline looming, Vermont Governor Phil Scott says he’s still not sure what he’s going to do with S. 54, which has been on his desk since last week. The bill legalizes and sets up a system for the legalized retail sale of cannabis. If the deadline passes without any action on his part, S. 54 will become law without Gov. Scott’s signature.
While the governor has said he was impressed with how lawmakers handled negotiations, he also expressed some concerns around racial equity during a gubernatorial debate against Lt. Gov David Zuckerman last week, after hearing criticism from certain racial justice groups; but he’s also getting the opposite advice from organizations like ACLU of Vermont.
Veto Request on Cannabis Taxation and Regulation Bill, S.54 https://t.co/zOBZL2Rm47
— Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (@VermontAllies) September 24, 2020
Differing versions of the bill passed each chamber before being reconciled in a bicameral conference committee last month. The legislature then approved the finalized proposal and sent it to Scott’s desk.
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 and addressing and repairing the historical harms of the war on drugs. #vtpoli pic.twitter.com/nCOhAH7zb6
— Kiah Morris (@MsKiahMorris) October 2, 2020
The other important piece of cannabis legislation that awaits Gov. Scott’s signature, S. 234, is a bill that, among other things, will automatically expunge all criminal records for past cannabis possession offenses. The fate of the expungement bill is less precarious: The governor is presumably expected to sign off on the bill or allow it to pass into law without his signature.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, the governor was asked for a status update on his thinking about the legislation. He’s demurred several times on the question in recent days, stating that he needs to take into account newly expressed concerns from certain racial justice groups that have reached out to him.
“They did move forward in a lot of areas that I had concerns about, but it still isn’t exactly what I’d like to see and there are some shortcomings,” he said. “So, again, I’ll be reflecting on that over the next 24 hours and then coming to a conclusion tomorrow.”
Previously, his criticism centered on issues such as impaired driving, taxes and local control, all areas where lawmakers made concessions to Scott’s positions.
Some advocates are concerned by the new narrative coming from the governor, as it’s the first time he’s raised concerns around racial justice in relation to S. 54. Previously, his criticism centered on issues such as impaired driving, taxes and local control, all areas where lawmakers made concessions to Scott’s positions. Other advocates that are in opposition to the bill, encouraged by his second thoughts, are pushing hard for a veto.
For the record, prior to this week, @GovPhilScott’s sole contribution to racial justice in S.54 was demanding the removal of a provision requiring him to appoint a BIPOC Control Board commissioner. #gaslightphil #vtpoli
— Dave Silberman (@DaveSilberman) October 3, 2020
“Instead of vetoing the bill, the Governor should sign S. 54 and demand prioritization of racial justice in all aspects of its implementation,” a coalition of advocates. including the ACLU of Vermont said in a press release published Sunday. “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.”
Listen to the governor discuss the cannabis tax-and-regulate bill in Tuesday’s press conference, starting around 33:45 into the video below: