Less than a week after the bill’s enrollment, Vermont Governor Phil Scott expressed motivation to perhaps veto the recent cannabis legalization bill, S. 54, sent to his desk last week with overwhelming support from both chambers of the Vermont Legislature. In a recent debate, the governor claimed concern about how the “pot bill” may further racial inequity in Vermont, citing a number of raised concerns from unidentified constituent groups on the topic.
While the governor failed to specify what groups expressed concern that the bill did nothing to further racial equity or justice within the cannabis world, notable groups did indeed express concerns on the issue. For example, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance wrote a letter to the governor laying out numerous ways the bill “not only ignores the government’s responsibility to repair harm and ensure equity but also actually is harmful to African Americans of Vermont.” These reasons included a lack of research “on the historical adverse impact of marijuana on African Americans or the impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry,” the refusal to honor requests to “provide adequate reparative and equity language,” and the inclusion of certain “symbolic gestures including the passage of a separate expungement (provision)…(that does) little to address the true harm or provide equitable opportunity.” The letter ended with the Alliance calling for an immediate veto of the bill, noting that “it is reprehensible that despite a double pandemic that is exacerbating the impact of systemic racism on Black and Brown bodies that this policy is on your desk.”
Additionally, the Vermont Growers Association released a public statement in conjunction with a “vibrant coalition of local nonprofits and businesses…from the local BIPOC, agricultural and environmental communities.” The coalition wrote that they are “together to say ‘no’ to S. 54 in order to ensure that the people most hurt by this history of policy and policing are the ones who will most greatly benefit from the legalization of cannabis in Vermont, and who will determine what that means.” The coalition also released a list of specific changes to improve the bill to promote racial equity, including allowing the cultivation of cannabis on land zoned for agricultural use, providing government funding to ensure the equity provisions in the bill come to fruition, allowing for individuals to get retailers licenses faster (currently no earlier than 2022), and restricting the ability of localities to inhibit the sell and cultivation of cannabis within town borders. These changes, the coalition concluded, would help remedy certain shortcomings within the cannabis world, including the fact that the cannabis industry is worth $40-60 billion in 2020, while only 4.3 percent of cannabis businesses are black-owned.