Vetoes bill seeking pathway for hard drug legalization
By Guy Page
Explaining his veto of a bill creating a pathway for legalizing hard drugs, Gov. Scott yesterday said Vermont’s weak drug laws already make it a drug trafficking destination.
H505 would have created a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board with a stated goal to identify a path to effectively legalize personal possession and use of dangerous and highly addictive drugs.
“It places no limits on which drugs can be contemplated for legalization or the amounts, and…..it includes absolutely no recognition of the often-disastrous health and safety impacts of using drugs like fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and more,” Scott said in his letter to the Legislature explaining the veto. “Nor does it acknowledge the role of enforcement in tracking down and stopping the dealers who seek to poison Vermonters – including children – for profit.”
The veto drew criticism of “racism” from Scott’s only declared gubernatorial opponent, left-leaning Democrat Brenda Siegel: “We can not be so afraid of studying alternatives to jail that we are willing to uphold a law that is rooted in racism.”
“The Governor’s veto of H.505 upholds a disparity in sentencing that is known to disproportionately impact Black and Brown people across our state and across the country,” Siegel added. “H.505 would have eliminated the crack/powder sentencing disparity and created a board of health experts to study thresholds for possession crimes. The War On Drugs is both racist and classist and to veto a bill that should be such an easy yes shows the Governor’s unwillingness to use data, science and lived experience experts to meaningfully address the Overdose Crisis in this state.”
But Scott says low-risk drug laws are already part of the problem.
“Vermont remains a destination for drug trafficking due in part to demand, and in part because of the view by drug traffickers that financial incentives outweigh the risks posed by Vermont’s criminal laws,” Scott said.
Governor Scott also vetoed H.534, a criminal record expungement bill.
The bill would make drug-dealing crimes expungable – and given the increase in drug-related violent crime, that’s a bad idea, he said.
“Vermont is currently experiencing a significant spike in violent crime with most being drug-related. From my perspective, this bill seeks to make offenses relating to possessing, selling, cultivating, dispensing and transporting dangerous, illicit and highly addictive drugs – as well as the use of fraud or deceit to obtain these dangerous drugs – expungable offenses,” Scott wrote.
Scott allowed – with some misgivings – a Burlington charter change adopting ‘instant run-off’ voting. He let H744 pass into law without his signature. IRV favors third-parties such as the Vermont Progressive Party by giving voters a ‘second choice’.
But Scott warned legislators not to try to spread the practice statewide:
“I’m allowing it to move forward because its scope is limited to the method of elections of the Burlington City Council. Ten years ago, Burlington voters rejected a similar instant runoff election system because it yielded flawed results. Nevertheless, the political winds have shifted and once again Burlington voters, for now, favor ranked choice voting,” Scott said. “While H.744 will become law, it will be without my signature. I want to be clear, I am opposed to a statewide system of ranked choice voting. I believe one person should get one vote, and candidates who get the most votes should win elections.”
Also, Scott signed these bills:
H287, patient financial assistance policies and medical debt protection
H500, prohibiting the sale of mercury lamps in the State
H553, eligibility of domestic partners for reimbursement from the Victims Compensation Program
He also allowed H523, reducing hydrofluorocarbon emissions, to go into law without his signature, explaining: “While I support the goals of this bill, I am concerned there may be unintended consequences for Vermonters who own vehicles made in 2015 or earlier. The number of vehicles and impacts of this law are unknown – and hopefully inconsequential – but should be determined before the effective date in January 2023. I have asked the Department of Motor Vehicles to research this and assess the consequences. Should there be undue harm from this bill, I will ask the Legislature to make the necessary changes in January.”