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Backers of pot legalization hope for compromise in Vermont

Republican Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announces Wednesday in Montpelier, Vt., that he is vetoing legislation that would have made Vermont the ninth state to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Scott said he was sending the bill back the legislature with suggestions for changes. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Supporters of a bill vetoed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott that would have legalized marijuana in Vermont said Thursday that they are hopeful that a compromise on the legislation can be reached next month, but lawmakers aren’t so confident.

On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill, saying he was sending it back to the Legislature with recommendations for changes, such as more aggressive penalties for smoking pot while driving or in the presence of children and clearer and tougher penalties for selling and dispensing marijuana to minors.

Eight other states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana. All did it through a referendum. Vermont’s bill would have legalized possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot for adults.

“There’s an opportunity to get this done this summer and have Vermont be the first state to do this legislatively,” said Matt Simon of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana.

Democratic Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he reviewed the governor’s suggestions and there were a few issues legislators would agree with and a few that would require more examination. However, he questioned whether a compromise could be reached during a one- or two-day veto session in June if House Republicans aren’t willing to suspend the legislative rules to allow legislation to move more quickly.

“There’s no reason that we couldn’t come to an agreement with the governor next January that would still be effective July 1, 2018,” Sears said.

House Republican Leader Don Turner has said GOP representatives support the veto and he sees no reason to expedite or circumvent the legislative process by suspending the legislative rules.

The governor’s spokeswoman said a rules suspension is not required for lawmakers to stay and work on a compromise.

Scott noted Wednesday that he doesn’t believe marijuana legislation is the highest priority in the state.

“There’s nothing that says we have to do this,” he said.

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