Vermont Governor Blows Smoke With Legal Marijuana Veto

“Libertarian” Phil Scott enforces nanny state values — wtf?

Vermont, of all places, offers the latest example of how marijuana makes people crazy, the people in this case being the Republican governor and most of the Republican Party. For all the “Reefer Madness” propaganda from governments over the past century, the real madness comes from opponents of marijuana, not its users or proponents.

Vermont governor Phil Scott waited until the last possible moment on May 24 to issue his veto of the  24-page bill (Senate bill S.22) passed by both houses of the legislature (Senate 20-9, House 79-66): An Act Relating to Eliminating Penalties for Possession of Limited Amounts of Marijuana by Adults 21 Years of Age and Older. The bill stops way short of full legalization, treating marijuana like aspirin, but it represents a major shift toward sanity and scientific reality that American populations seem to be slowly insisting that their governments address.

Gov. Scott, albeit in a slippery, mealy-mouthed way, is firmly in the rearguard reactionary camp, saying “reasonable” things while still defending the “values” of J. Edgar Hoover and drug fascists everywhere. To be fair, Gov. Scott has not yet encouraged a police and vigilante murder spree against “drug dealers” such as we’re now seeing in the Philippines, but he’s on the same spectrum of state control and intolerance.

The essence of S.22 is clearly stated in the bill (as approved, page 10):

Sec. 1. LEGISLATIVE INTENT; CIVIL AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES It is the intent of the General Assembly to eliminate all penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants for a person who is 21 years of age or older while retaining criminal penalties for possession, dispensing and sale of larger amounts of marijuana. This act also retains civil penalties for possession of marijuana by a person under 21 years of age, which are the same as for possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age.

This is only a baby step toward marijuana sanity. It is a measure of our cultural myopia that even this minimal, largely symbolic measure still provokes a reefer madness response. Read the legislative intent carefully: all it really does is remove the criminal threat from limited activity a good many people already engage in covertly.

Gov. Scott tries to sound reasonable in his veto message:

With a libertarian streak in me, I believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children…. I have supported, and continue to support, medical marijuana laws and decriminalization.

Even his “reasonableness” has nasty hooks. Decriminalization isn’t limited to “behind closed doors and on private property,” that’s a dishonest, self-contradictory concept. To focus on “especially children” in a bill aimed at adults over 21 is an equally deceitful bit of demagoguery.

Gov. Scott’s performance with regard to S.22 is an exercise in blatant bad faith. He did not engage in the legislative process to attempt to shape a bill he would sign, he did not engage in the legislative process meaningfully at all. Everything he’s done is consistent with delaying tactics, with the possible goal of preventing any change while amiably seeming reasonable about his behavioral rigidity. Gov. Scott is saying we should go slow (the familiar mantra that usually means “never”) and he has made no good faith effort to go at all.

“We must get this right,” Scott writes, adding that that “means letting the science inform any policy….” Then he proceeds to stand with the anti-science tradition that classifies marijuana with heroin. He cites no science in support of his views, perhaps because there is none and has been none for a long, long time. Even though marijuana science is politicized and selectively under-funded, scientists keep finding less and less danger from marijuana. The governor doesn’t even try to engage in an honest risk/benefit analysis of marijuana safety. To be in favor of a ban on marijuana without trying to ban tobacco is as stupid as it is irrational.

Perhaps because he has no compelling, rational argument, Gov. Scott uses his three-page veto message to raise the specter of mostly unnamed and undefined public and safety issues (referred to at least sixteen times). The desperation of his demagoguery is his single, specific “scientific” example: “Secondhand marijuana smoke can negatively impact a child’s brain development. Therefore, if an adult is smoking marijuana in a car or a confined space with a child this should be severely penalized.” And other secondhand smoke is OK?

“We can all work together on this issue in a comprehensive and responsible way,” Gov. Scott writes near the end of his veto message. This is true. Gov. Scott could have done as much when the legislation was introduced. He did not. He shows no sign now of being comprehensive (whatever that might mean), much less responsible.

The governor’s official state page declares:

Governor Phil Scott became the 82nd Governor of Vermont on January 5, 2017. He previously served three terms as Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor, and as a Senator for Washington County. As Governor, he has committed to making a difference in the lives of Vermonters by growing the state’s economy, making Vermont more affordable, and restoring faith and trust in government.

This is a mountebank’s creed. Believe it at your peril. As Nixon’s campaign manager turned attorney general so long ago warned: pay no attention to what we say, watch what we do. For all his smarmy “recommendations,” Gov. Scott stands squarely in defense of an insane criminal system that fills prisons with nonviolent drug “offenders” for the sake of sanctimonious hypocrisy, racial discrimination, and private prison profits.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll (2019) is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.