VT Gov. Vetoes Safe Consumption Site Bill. It May Become Law Without Him.

    Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) has vetoed legislation that would authorize a safe consumption site (SCS) pilot. On May 30, Scott returned bill H.72 to the General Assembly without his signature, describing “increased enforcement” as the better investment to reduce overdose deaths.

    He’s wrong. Now, lawmakers who have long anticipated his decision will attempt to authorize SCS anyway.

    State legislators will reconvene the morning of June 17. If they have a two-thirds supermajority in favor, they can override Scott’s veto. The Senate is likely to have more than enough votes. Support in the House is the shakier of the two, but still stands a reasonable chance at a supermajority.

    H.72, “An act relating to harm-reduction criminal justice response to drug use,” was introduced in January 2023. In January 2024, it passed through the House with a vote of 96-35, with 18 members absent. Originally the bill proposed two sites, but in April was pared down to one as it worked its way through the Senate. In early May, the Senate approved the amended bill 28-1.

    Over the past decade, fatal overdose in Vermont has increased nearly 500 percent.

    Scott openly declared his intention to veto on multiple occasions. He’s supported his stance with a number of false claims, including that SCS undermine recovery resources and lack sufficient data supporting their efficacy for overdose prevention.

    Similar to the effect of syringe service programs, enrollment at an SCS is associated with a significantly higher likelihood of accessing treatment and recovery resources. OnPoint NYC, which in 2021 opened the first two government-sanctioned SCS in the United States, averted more than 1,000 overdoses in its first two years. In Canada, where such sites have legally operated in various forms since Insite Vancouver opened in 2003, overdose rates in their surrounding neighborhoods have “decreased significantly.” 

    “While these sites are well-intentioned, this costly experiment will divert financial resources from proven prevention, treatment and recovery strategies,” Scott wrote to legislators on May 30, “as well as harm reduction initiatives that facilitate entry into treatment rather than continued use.”

    Over the past decade, fatal overdose in Vermont has increased nearly 500 percent. Vermont Department of Health data released May 13 show a slight decrease in overdose mortality in 2023, but the state still has among the highest drug-related mortality rates in the country.

     

     

    If enacted, H.72 would require the health department to establish SCS guidelines by September 15. Vermont would become the third state to authorize SCS, following Rhode Island and Minnesota. OnPointNYC operates its two SCS under city jurisdiction.

    The pilot’s one remaining site would be opened with $1.1 million from the state’s opioid settlement funds. The address and service provider haven’t yet been determined, but the location is slated for somewhere in Burlington.

    “While it may consolidate the widespread drug use in Burlington into a smaller area within the city,” Scott continued in his May 30 statement, “it will come at the expense of the treatment and recovery needs of other communities, for whom such a model will not work.”

    According to VTDigger, on the evening of May 30 House Speaker Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) stated that the House intended to override the governor’s veto.

     


     

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

    • 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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