VT Legalizes Safe Consumption Sites, Reversing Course on Veto Override

June 17, 2024

 

[Update, June 17: This story has been edited to reflect the final outcome of the Assembly vote]

Vermont has authorized a safe consumption site (SCS) pilot, after a General Assembly vote against overturning Governor Phil Scott’s veto was itself overturned. On June 17, legislators initially fell one vote short of the supermajority required to authorize SCS without the governor’s approval. Hours after voting to uphold the veto, Senator Richard Westman (R) changed his vote, and with it the legal status of SCS in Vermont.

The Democrat-controlled legislature had reconvened to address items left unfinished in May. On the agenda were a record seven bills that had been vetoed by Scott, but which legislators believed they could still potentially vote into law; doing so requires a two-thirds supermajority. The House cleared that with 104-41 vote to overturn the SCS veto. The Senate, which required 20 votes to do the same, unexpectedly ended with a vote of 19-10.

“It was absolutely a surprise. I thought we had the votes,” Senator Tanya Vyhovsky (P/D) said in the hours after first vote, before the outcome was ultimately reversed, according to VTDigger. “And probably the most heartbreaking surprise that I’ve ever experienced in this building. I mean, that vote will kill people.”

Shortly after, however, Westman moved for the legislature to make an exception to its usual practices so the vote could be reconsidered. He was denied, resulting in the House resubmitting the bill to the Senate and, ultimately, Westman’s vote to override the veto bringing the total to 20.

“The reason this is happening is my own lapse, not paying attention as closely as I should have been,” Westman said after the second vote was finalized, according to VTDigger.

 

 

Over the past five years, fatal overdose in Vermont has increased 500 percent. Fentanyl was involved in 95 percent of overdose deaths recorded by the Vermont Department of Health in 2023.

Scott vetoed H.72, the proposal to authorize a pilot program with an SCS slated for Burlington, on May 30. The bill as introduced would have included funding for two sites, but the second had been cut in the final version that made it to the governor’s desk.

Vermont is now the third state to authorize SCS, following Rhode Island and Minnesota. New York City remains the only jurisdiction to actually open SCS, with two sites operating under local authorization since 2021.

Scott has issued more vetoes than any Vermont governor to precede him.

Though seven vetoes were on the June 17 agenda, Scott issued eight this session in total. In April, he chose not to sign legislation that would have banned flavored tobacco products. The legislature did not take this up alongside the other vetoes discussed at the session.

“From my perspective, this bill is inconsistent with other laws related to legalized substance use,” Scott wrote in his veto letter. “In 2020, the Legislature legalized the commercial sale of cannabis, including edibles and other flavored products, which are now widely available, despite the known risks to youth and their developing brains. Yet, to my knowledge, I’m not aware of an initiative to ban such products.”

This mischaracterizes the relative risks of both THC edibles and of flavored vapes.

Since taking office in 2016, Scott has issued more vetoes than any Vermont governor to precede him.

 


 

Top photograph via Vermont General Assembly. Inset graphic via Vermont Department of Health.

Kastalia Medrano

Kastalia is Filter's deputy editor. She previously worked at a number of other media outlets and wouldn’t recommend the drug coverage at any of them. When not at Filter, she works with drug users in NYC and drug checkers in North Carolina to track hyperlocal supply changes, and cohosts a national stimulant users call with Isaac Jackson.

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