Scott’s pot law: It’s OK to get stoned now

MONTPELIER — After years spent softening the public image of recreational marijuana drug use, pot advocates finally scored a victory in Vermont on Monday with Gov. Phil Scott signing legislation that legalizes possession, use and cultivation of marijuana by adults.

Scott signed H.511 into law out of the public eye, and just in time for the self-imposed legislative deadline of midnight. The Republican governor’s action means Vermont is the first state in the union to legalize marijuana through the legislative process by the General Assembly.

Gov. Phil Scott

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott had to ignore law enforcement and medical professionals to sanction legal pot smoking in Vermont.

“I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children,” Scott said in a statement.

The law allows for cultivation of two mature pot plants on private property and eliminates penalties of public possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. While the law allows for storage of unlimited amounts of pot, public consumption continues to be illegal. The law goes into effect July 1.

Scott’s decision not to turn the signing into a public media event appears to be politically calculated, serving to blunt criticism from his increasingly vocal political base, notably the law enforcement community which supported his candidacy for governor in 2016.

The choice to support and approve marijuana legalization may have cost him considerable political capital, especially among supporters such as police officers.

RELATED: Vermont law enforcement express sense of betrayal over looming pot legalization

Both House and Senate passed H.511 soon after the Legislature reconvened for the 2018 session. Some skeptical voters and media commentators wondered why a recreational pot bill was among the first things lawmakers tackled in the new year when bigger public concerns exist such as the budget gap and the opioid addiction crisis.

Legislators speak out

State Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, told True North she didn’t like how quickly lawmakers ignored her concerns about safety issues and moved to approve the legislation.

“I voted for all of the amendments and (ultimately) against the bill,” Donahue said. “The penalties for smoking with children in the room was my proposed amendment. … There are no penalties in the bill and no references to the use of marijuana with children present. This proposal would have created a penalty, the same penalty as for smoking in a car with kids present, for smoking in other enclosed spaces.”

“I just think that if we agree that there should be a clear public policy message that this is being legalized as an adult activity, that we are not going to impose sanctions for adult use, then we should make it clear that the state does not think it’s OK to have children present while using marijuana,” she added.

Rep. Bob Bancroft, R-Westford, a vocal opponent of the governor’s push for legalization, made no bones about his position on Vermont’s new marijuana law.

“Being a social moderate with a fairly broad libertarian streak, I would likely have supported legalization if I was not a legislator,” he said. “(But) as an elected representative, I have a duty to evaluate the social and economic cost and benefits of proposed legislation. My personal opinion is subservient to the best interest of the residents of this state.”

Bancroft said he has heard from hundreds of constituents on the issue, with the majority opposing legalization. He also heard from many experts whose testimony went largely ignored under the Golden Dome.

“I heard from scores of physicians, medical researchers, educators, law enforcement officials and drug treatment professionals. With the exception of two individuals, they were adamantly opposed to legalization,” he said.

“I simply could not ignore their advice and information they provided to support their warnings. They convinced me that there is going to be significant costs to society from legalization. These costs will come about with increases in traffic deaths and injuries, emergency care visits, and mental psychosis. I am afraid our youths will bear a disproportionate share of the negative consequences.”

Law enforcement opposition

From Vermont’s law enforcement sector came words of betrayal following Scott’s signing H.511 into law.

Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel, president of the Vermont Police Association, is an outspoken opponent of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The group, along with the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police and the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association, have been cautioning state lawmakers to go more slowly on the issue of legalization.

“None of us are happy with the state … (legalizing) marijuana,” Merkel told TNR. “There are a number of concerns we have about legalization. Certainly the one that jumps out most is the highway safety consideration, especially in light of an uptick, unfortunately, in highway fatalities. A good proportion of these incidents involved drugs (including marijuana).”

A doctor’s advice ignored

Ken Finn, a medical doctor from Colorado who passionately opposed pot legalization there, became an interstate voice against legalizing marijuana in Vermont. Finn, a member of the Colorado Governor’s Task Force on Amendment 64 — the amendment which legalized marijuana in Colorado — has written several commentaries in the Vermont news media recently against legalizing pot here, especially after widely publicized problems in the Centennial State. He was unhappy with H.511 being signed into law.

“Marijuana-related driving fatalities on Colorado roads continues to increase,” Finn said. “The recent loss of five innocent lives in (Bridport, Vermont) … to impaired driving should be a wakeup call to Vermonters that adding another legal drug to the mix is simply not a good idea.”

According to Finn, one example of the toll legal pot has taken on his state is a hospital in Colorado Springs which, he claimed, lost over $20 million health care dollars between 2009 and 2014. “This was due to marijuana-related ER visits,” he said.

Finn added that while he believes cannabinoids have promise in the field of medicine,”let science rather than public opinion (and politics) determine what is best.”

Regarding a possible commercial tax and regulate system for marijuana in the future, Scott said there “must be comprehensive and convincing plans” regarding education, prevention and highway safety strategies developed by lawmakers.

“It is important for the General Assembly to know that – until we have a workable plan to address each of these concerns – I will veto any additional effort along these lines, which manages to reach my desk.”

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at lvinvt@gmx.com.

Images courtesy of U.S. Army National Guard/Michelle Gonzalez/CC BY 2.0 and Gov. Phil Scott
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22 thoughts on “Scott’s pot law: It’s OK to get stoned now

  1. Can it can’t get any more convoluted ….?

    Cultivation of two mature pot plants on …. private property (whos?)
    Public possession ‘up to’ …. an ounce …. but, wait for it –
    Storage of unlimited amounts (where?)
    Public consumption is illegal – (what?)
    Never addressing oil, hash or kief?
    Boy, did Vermonters ever get ‘punked’ by Scott and the legislature.
    No accountability on who voted for what …. and no picture to be used against the cowardly signer.
    My heart goes out to those challenged in enforcing this menagerie of ineptness!
    What a train wreck.

    • Vermont has been a train wreck ever since you started electing Bernie Sanders repeatedly. Scott finally did the right thing.

  2. Scott just lost my vote and furthermore the senate is made up of a bunch of cowards. Voice vote? As a result, we do not know whom among these senators voted for the bill and we have every right to know.

  3. Driving in VT, you should have concerns on the road encountering. 1) alcohol intoxication, 2) Opioid addiction, various hard drugs (including marijuana), phone usage, etc. Noted that in November VT had 52 road deaths and traveling thru VA they had 720 noted on road signs. Drug related deaths is astronomical.

    It’s a crises and needs controlling. But Gun Control people/groups say guns are the problem with VT being the safest gun state in the country and they deny reality as does the Legislature.

  4. The Vermont tourism industry will also take a hit. What a shame.

    My oldest son died in a marijuana-related crash. The driver took her own life 7 months later by setting herself on fire.

    I spent some time in Vermont telling my story and did everything I could to convince legislators and Governor Scott to do the right thing.

    It’s a sad day for the citizens of Vermont; especially the youth.

    • Cannabis related death huh? I would like to see that proven. I am more willing to bet you are either a liar or there was something else that actually caused the accident.

      Tourism will take a hit? lol Yes LITERALLY – people will flock to the state by the thousands!

      Where do you liberals come up with this stuff?

    • The loss of life due to pot or other illegal drug intoxication is on the rise. It is a proven fact, but some people do not want to admit to this issue. To those folks party on and watch vehicular manslaughter rise in our state
      We should not ignore the cases that have already occurred….they are the warning signs of what will be. God bless the victims of public intoxication who people want to ignore. I am sure their families live every day with the realization of their loss……

  5. Jon Corrigan: personally if it’s your land than yeah in or out of season whatever your pleasure, other land… should be the property owner’s decision but really do you think that someone would overhung their property when they think they’ll slay the goose who lays the golden egg? Even bating a deer is in question. There are many deer farms that slaughter whenever the markets demand it… what’s the difference between keeping and bating deer?
    Build nearly anything they wan without a permit…? Or not needing a $30k license to be able to cut hair? Let me build and do what I want. If it’s business and I don’t meat demand than it won’t take long to put me as a deplorable or dregs that cannot fulfill what I said I could. If it doesn’t have to do with public than what business is it to the government what I build? If my house’s septic is shoddy the house won’t sell or won’t sell for what it would if it were properly installed. There are holes in many of your statements. … and your the most reasonable sounding on this thread so far.

  6. I’m glad Gov. Scott came to his senses. Of course Law enforcement and drug abuse “professionals” would be against legalization. They profit off of the illegality of the plant. What right does anyone have to punish anyone else for possessing or consuming something? If they have a habit and steal from someone to support that habit than they commit a crime but only after that happens before then is purely theoretical.

    • Colorado has seen an increase in motor vehicle crashes since marijuana was legalized. Law Enforcement does not “Profit” from the illegality. I have been in Law Enforcement for 37 years and have yet to make anything from pot being illegal. Hopefully you or your family will not be harmed by someone driving under the influence. It will also be interesting to see how many people lose there 2nd amendment rights by the federal government, as it still is against Federal law.

      • Colorado has also seen a huge influx of people since the law went into effect, so the link to cannabis can not be proven. They have also been testing much much more so its being seen really for the first time. You cant compare it to time periods when it wasnt being looked for. Most people already used it for decades. As far as you not benefiting from prohibition – if any part of your job included ticketing, harassing, or arresting people over a plant – then you benefited from prohibition. You by the way are in the minority, most law enforcement is for ending cannabis prohibition.

  7. Gov. Scott, I am disappointed and saddened by the news that you caved in on this issue and seemingly ignoring the warnings by Vermont’s police force.
    This move will undoubtedly cause dependency issues for the users, as well as injuries to many innocent people, the cost which will not be carried by the people using the stuff, but by the already overburdened Vermont tax payer.

    • Cannabis will end up making Vermont a lot of money – and saving Vermont a lot of money. Now law enforcement no longer needs to waste resources chasing a plant and can concentrate on REAL crime.As far as dependence goes, cannabis is not addictive. Wheat, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, and many chemicals in food are addictive but not cannabis. In fact its one of the safest substances on the planet. There are no deaths ever recorded from taking cannabis. As far as injuries, people who want to use cannabis already do. Nothing will change, except now they dont have to worry about going to jail for a plant.

  8. It is sad that Scott has joined the liberal crowd and “legalized” marijuana in Vermont with his signature, just as he has “legalized” illegal immigrants by refusing to help the feds. Of course, both pot and illegals still violate federal law. It is now up to federal authorities to combat illegal aliens and marijuana in Vermont. Cannot support him any longer. Will note against him and hope others do the same.

    • Actually Scott finally took the constitutional approach and saved thousands of cannabis users from prosecution from a Unconstitutional federal law. The 18th amendment was required to Constitutionally ban alcohol. No such measure was ever taken with cannabis, therefore the federal law is null and void in any state wishing to stand up for themselves.

  9. “I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children”

    Since that’s the governor’s stance, it appears everybody with private property can now:
    hunt anything they want (in or out of season),
    build nearly anything they want (without worrying about a permit),
    put in a traditional septic system rather than an overpriced mound system

    • Mr. Corrigan
      I plan on being self-efficient living. You should consider a composting toilet, far cheaper, non-polluting, no odors. The waste is burned and reduced greatly. In July in Timmouth VT there’s a solar fest for a weekend. Google it. There’s classes that cover many subjects. If you have a RV you can stay there, I was close enough to travel for the three days.

    • Where in the Constitution does it say you need to pay a fee and have a permit to hunt/gather food on your own property – or anywhere for that matter? All of those fees are nothing but unconstitutional taxation.

  10. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, had to ignore law enforcement and medical professionals to sanction
    legal pot smoking in Vermont………. What A Leader !!……………… Liberal Puppet .

    Wait until the real problems and ramifications hit home !!

    • He may have ignored the few talking heads taking money from big pharma, but he followed the will of the people.

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