Our opinion: Kicking the pot down the road

Governor Phil Scott held off on ending some of Vermont's failed marijuana prohibition laws Wednesday, but said if the Legislature can make a few tweaks to S. 22 there may be a "path forward" in June during the veto session.

The legalization would have decriminalized marijuana possession in small amounts for adults and allowed them to grow a few plants in their homes. It also called for lawmakers to study the creation of a regulated market.

It was a reasonable bill that would have been a step in the right direction and it's a shame Scott will be sending it once more through the wringer where it's anyone's guess how the Legislature will handle it.

Scott claims S.22 "...appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors." He'd like the bill rewritten to clarify that it's still super illegal to give or sell marijuana to children.

Fair enough.

Scott would also like to, "...more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors. For example, this bill states that one cannot use marijuana in a vehicle. But, if an adult is smoking with a child in the car, there is only a small fine equal to the penalty for an adult having an open container of alcohol," he wrote in a statement. According to science, "...secondhand marijuana smoke can negatively impact a child's brain development. Therefore, if an adult is smoking marijuana in a car with a child — in my view — that should include a more severe punishment."

We agree. Driving under the influence of a substance is a serious offense, doing it with a child in tow even more so.

Scott also wants the Marijuana Regulatory Commission created by the bill to be strengthened and given a more specific set of tasks. "The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health."

He also wants the commission to study the impacts on the General Fund.

Finally, the commission would have at least a year to look at all of this before putting forward its recommendations.

It's tempting to blame Scott for the latest holdup, but fault lies with the Legislature, specifically the House.

Last year the Senate passed a reasonable marijuana bill that included the means to develop a regulated market. With some tweaking it could have been passed and been signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, but the House voted it down.

This year the House came out with a bill any outside observer would say stood even less chance of passing. After sitting on it for most of the session and nearly burying it in committee, the House narrowly passed the thing, doing so at such a later hour that the Senate had to attach its version as an amendment to another bill.

Marijuana legalization has been on Vermont's table for a while now. Two years ago Vermont sent a team to Colorado to study how it was handling it having recently legalized. There have been plenty of conversations since then, during which Massachusetts and Maine have both seen the light.

We won't fault anyone for wanting to take their time and do this right, but while we await the "Perfect Pot Bill" we're still living with a failed prohibition system.


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