Scott to create marijuana legalization commission

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SHELBURNE — Gov. Phil Scott plans to create an executive commission to study issues related to marijuana legalization in Vermont.

The panel will focus on safety impacts of legalization and may eventually look into sales and regulation. It will also spend time on youth education surrounding edible marijuana products and other forms of the drug.

"There are two, three bills that are still out there. This issue isn't going away at this point, and it's something that will be continuing," Scott told reporters Monday.

The governor reiterated that highway impairment, road safety and education are his main concerns surrounding legalization.

The head of the commission, and its members, have yet to be named. Scott did not rule out the possibility of a legislative presence in the group and said he plans to announce more details within the next few weeks.

In May, Scott became the first governor in the nation to veto a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana. He sent S.22 back to the Legislature but said he would be willing to support the bill if changes were made.

Vermont lawmakers became the first to pass a bill to legalize marijuana. Eight states and the District of Columbia have done so through referendums.

The legislation would have removed all criminal and civil penalties for adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. It also would have allowed people to grow up to two flowering and four immature plants at home, starting in July 2018.

It also would have formed a commission charged with exploring the creation of a regulated pot market. Scott said at the time that he might create his own commission if the bill didn't advance.

Compromise legislation addressing Scott's concerns didn't make it through the one-day veto session in June.

Scott has previously said he views legalization through a "libertarian lens" and believes adults should be able to make their own choices in private, as long as they don't affect others.

Scott said Monday that he has been working with the Coalition of Northeast Governors to address some of the potential issues surrounding legalization.

The governor said he does not expect the commission to produce a report before the Legislature is back in session in January, adding that its recommendations are likely to come a year from now.

Scott said pivoting the focus to studying a legalized market is "the next step" and that the primary short-term focus will be safety.

"It's happening all around us with Massachusetts, Maine, Canada. It's certainly forming around us," he said, listing other locations that have legalized marijuana or are moving toward it. "I just think it's imperative that we stay ahead of the curve as best we can."

Scott announced his plans while at a news conference at Fiddlehead Brewing in Shelburne to announce the third annual Young Professionals Summit of Vermont. The event will include a range of presentations, panels and sessions with leaders from around the state. Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell will deliver the keynote address.

The summit is being led by co-chairs Amanda O'Brien and Laura Pierce, two 30-year-old Rutland natives who decided to return to Vermont after their careers took them to Chicago and New York.

"We're looking to engage and support young professionals, as well as provide feedback to business and political leaders on how to best foster workplaces, and an economic landscape, that will help support young professionals and future generations," O'Brien said.

O'Brien works remotely for a boutique strategy consulting firm, while Pierce works in project management for a health care software company.

Scott said he believes it is important for the state to invest in new industries, including the tech and craft brewery sectors.

"To grow this economy, we all need to go in the same direction and think outside the box. We need to listen to and learn from folks like you today," he said, referring to the young professionals who were present.

Scott has attended the last two young professionals summits and said they help show young Vermonters that there are great career opportunities within the state.

"We're not just a place to visit," he said. "We're a place to live and work."

This year's summit will be at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland on Sept. 9.


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