Pardoning people with marijuana convictions is an idea that enjoys bipartisan support in Vermont. Outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, announced last week that he would seek to clear the records of as many people who’ve been punished for cannabis as possible before he leaves office in early January.
Now, Phil Scott, the state’s incoming Republican governor-elect, says he’s in support of the plan.
“I think that that makes sense,” Scott told reporters at a press conference on Monday. “I’m hopeful that the governor can commit to going through all the — what could be hundreds of applications before he leaves office.”
Shumlin, who pushed for full legalization in his State of the State address last year, created an online form last week which allows Vermonters with marijuana records to apply to have their convictions pardoned.
“Decriminalization was a good first step in updating our outmoded drug laws,” he said of the narrower legislation removing criminal penalties for cannabis possession that he signed into law in 2013. “It makes no sense that minor marijuana convictions should tarnish the lives of Vermonters indefinitely.”
But while Scott is on board with his predecessor’s pardon plan, he hasn’t committed to continue it when he takes over, and he also disagrees with Shumlin on the immediate need for broader legalization.
A former state senator and lieutenant governor, Scott voted for medical cannabis and supported the decriminalization law, but says he’s not sure if Vermont is ready to end prohibition outright just yet. “I’m not saying never I’m saying it’s the timing’s not right,” he told Vermont Public Radio earlier this year. “It’s not now.”
Vermont lawmakers nearly became the first in the nation this year to pass a marijuana legalization bill through the state legislature. To date, all eight states to have ended prohibition have done so through acts of voters at the ballot box. But while a legalization bill passed the Vermont Senate, it later died in the House of Representatives.
Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project told Marijuana.com that Scott’s hesitation won’t slow efforts to move legalization through the legislature in the coming session.
“Governor-elect Scott has said he wants to focus on improving Vermont’s economy,” he said. “If he really cares about job creation and economic stimulus, he should recognize that legalizing and regulating marijuana presents a remarkable opportunity in those areas.”
It is expected that a revised legalization bill will be introduced in the House in January which, if passed, should have enough traction to get through the Senate.
From there, Scott could either sign or veto the bill, or allow it to go into law without his signature. Vermont’s medical marijuana law took effect in 2004 after then-Gov. Jim Douglas (R) allowed it to be enacted without his signature.
Simon said that legalization in nearby states should give lawmakers ample motivation to end prohibition in Vermont.
“If Vermont fails to end marijuana prohibition in 2017, Vermonters will continue spending tens of millions of dollars each year buying marijuana from illicit drug dealers, and it won’t be long before they will have the additional option of buying it from regulated retail stores in Massachusetts and Maine,” he said. “In light of these realities, Governor-elect Scott and legislative leaders should recognize that 2017 will be the right time for Vermont to move forward with marijuana regulation.”
It is also expected that there will be a push in 2017 to expand Vermont’s existing medical cannabis law.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.