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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Gov. Allows Cannabis Sales To Become Law, Says More Needed On Equity, Prevention

Gov. Phil Scott smiling with Mitzi Johnson in the background
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
/
Times Argus File
Gov. Scott says he will allow a tax and regulate cannabis system but lawmakers have more work to do on racial equity and drug prevention measures.

Gov. Phil Scott has allowed a commercial tax-and-regulate system for marijuana sales to become law without his signature.

But in a letter sent to the Senate Wednesday evening, the governor says the Legislature needs to work more on drug misuse prevention and racial equity issues in the nascent cannabis industry.

Scott’s decision on the bill caps a multi-year effort to establish a legal marijuana business in Vermont. The Legislature legalized possession and cultivation of small amounts of the weed for people 21 and older in 2018, but the prohibition on commercial sales continued. The new law says sales would not begin until October 2022.

A conference committee finished work on the bill in September during a pandemic-divided legislative session that forced lawmakers to work remotely.

"I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation's history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions. We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a foundational principle in a new market." — Gov. Phil Scott

Scott noted the difficulties the new environment posed for dealing with the bill’s complexities. But he said the Legislature must improve highway safety, youth drug misuse, and social justice issues. 

“I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation's history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions," Scott wrote. "We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a foundational principle in a new market."

He said an Illinois law is a “benchmark” in creating an equitable cannabis market.

“We have already enacted similar provisions such as expungement measures,” he said. “However, some of the additional supports the Legislature should consider include creating a social equity applicant category for cannabis establishment licenses; a 50 percent licensing fee waiver for these applicants; and additional technical and financial supports.”

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