Vermont marijuana veto: What's next

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Gov. Phil Scott’s veto has thrown the legal marijuana bill back to the Legislature, setting up more work for the summer and fall.

“We can all work together on this issue in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Scott said Wednesday, suggesting that there is still a “path forward” for legalization.

Given the complexities of legislative procedure, however, that path could be more like a maze. Among the possibilities:

1. Game over

The bill could land with a splat, leaving lawmakers with the option of reviving their marijuana legalization efforts in 2018.

2. Move forward anyway

Lawmakers could override the governor’s veto — which would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

The odds of success are higher in the Senate, which supports the bill by a vote of 20-9, but tough in the House of Representatives, which passed it by a smaller margin of 79-66.

Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden, voted against the bill because it lacked any tax revenue that could help fund educational efforts to prevent youth use. 

In an interview Thursday, Ingram said she would change her vote in a veto override.

“Though I’m a little bit torn and I do have concerns, I would probably vote to override the governor’s veto,” Ingram said.

3. Compromise now

Lawmakers could agree to the governor’s demands and craft a compromise bill to pass during the June veto session that begins June 21.

These compromises would likely be baked into an entirely new bill. That was the strategy in 2016 when Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a renewable energy bill. The Senate voted to sustain the veto, then passed a separate bill that responded to the governor’s objections.

Timing could be tricky. Under normal rules, bills need at least three days in each chamber — one day on the notice calendar, one day for a preliminary vote, and one day for a final vote, plus extra days to allow for committee review and other procedural steps.

 Lawmakers can pass a bill more quickly by suspending the rules, which requires a three-quarters vote in both chambers.

The sticking point in this strategy? House Republicans.

Republicans hold 53 of the House’s 150 seats, and they traditionally vote among themselves to decide whether they will support a suspension of rules.

Some Republicans support marijuana legalization, but House Minority Leader Don Turner predicted Tuesday that his group would oppose any effort to suspend rules.

“I see no reason to expedite or circumvent the legislative process by suspending rules to pass S.22 during a one- or two-day veto session,” Turner said in a statement.

Rep. Janssen Willhoit, R-St. Johnsbury, voted against the marijuana bill last time but said he would get behind the governor’s changes.

“I would support suspending rules if, in fact, it is the bill that the governor has provided,” Willhoit said.

Sen. Christopher Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, who supports the marijuana legalization effort, is frustrated with the governor’s veto and skeptical that a true compromise is possible in June.

“I wonder what working with the governor looks like,” Pearson said, “because he’s frankly not shown any evidence of working together with the Legislature in the traditional sense…. His idea of working together is to lay down an edict and walk away when we’re not 100 percent in lock step.”

4. Compromise later

Lawmakers could work out some compromise with Gov. Scott that might pass when they return in January. 

Turner, the House Republican leader, supports a delay.

“The Majority should consider the far-reaching health and safety consequences of this issue in January 2018, thus allowing ample time for a comprehensive and thoughtful debate among various stakeholders,” Turner said.

Such a move would delay the work of a commission designed to study marijuana taxation and regulation. The vetoed bill envisioned a commission that would finish its work by Nov. 1. 

Marijuana shops in Massachusetts are expected to open for business in July 2018, regardless of what Vermont decides. Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana.

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Source: 420Intel – Politics

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