MONTPELIER, Vt. (May 30, 2017) – Last week, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would legalize possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. Vermont will not be able to further nullify the unconstitutional federal prohibition on cannabis until 2018.

Senate Bill 22 (S.22) originally set up a study commission to explore taxation and regulation of cannabis in the state. But at the last minute, the Senate amended it to include language from a bill that passed the House (H.170). As amended, S.22 would have legalized possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of two mature plants or four seedlings by adults 21 and over. The bill does not create any regulatory or taxing structure, and would not legalize the sale of marijuana. The measure retains language creating the study committee.

The Senate passed the amended version 20-9 on May 5. The House concurred by a 79-66 vote. Vermont could have become the first state to legalize marijuana through an act of the legislature, but Gov. Scott vetoed the legislation.

“While I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I believe that it is an inevitable part of the future, I decided to return this bill to the Legislature, and offer a path forward that still legalizes personal possession, while taking a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves to a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system,” Gov. Scott said in his veto letter.

In spite of his opposition to S.22, Gov. Scott portrays himself as a friend of cannabis reform. He claims that he will sign similar legislation in the future if certain provisions are added to allay public safety concerns.

“I have asked the Legislature to come back this summer and, while still allowing for possession of one ounce and a set number of marijuana plants, change S.22 to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors. We must acknowledge that marijuana is not alcohol and it is not tobacco – how we protect children from the new classification of the substance is incredibly important,” Gov. Scott said.

The state of Vermont will now have to wait until the 2018 legislative session before it can consider legalizing recreational cannabis again.

Marijuana legalization has taken a bumpy road in Vermont thus far. The Senate initially passed a more comprehensive bill that not only would have legalized marijuana possession, but also created a framework for commercial cultivation and retail sales. When it became clear the House would not approve the more aggressive measure, the Senate passed the amended SB.22 as a compromise. Not it appears the two houses of the legislature will have to work together to find a path forward that also addressed the governor’s concerns.


If S.22 was signed into law, it would have removed another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place. Vermont has already taken a first step by legalizing medical marijuana, and in February, the state Senate passed a bill to expand that program.

Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Vermont essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Vermont is among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states last November. More than 2-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

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