AG Rules Hemp Bill is Legal

June 23, 2008

Montpelier, VT — A constitutional dispute surrounding the so-called hemp bill has finally been resolved, paving the way for Vermont to become only the second state in the country to allow its farmers to grow the crop.

Gov. James Douglas, a critic of the hemp bill, had said the measure flies in the face of federal statutes and could ultimately complicate marijuana eradication efforts in the state.

Despite his opposition, a Douglas spokesman said that the bill didn’t rise to the level of a gubernatorial veto. And though he wasn’t willing to sign the bill himself, Douglas forwarded the legislation in early June to the secretary of state for her to enact the bill into law without his signature.

But Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said it was unclear whether the Vermont Constitution requires a gubernatorial signature or not. When the bill arrived at her office about two weeks ago, Markowitz sought legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General to make a ruling.

On Friday, William Griffin, chief assistant attorney general, said in a letter to Markowitz that Douglas did indeed abide by constitutional protocol and advised her to make the hemp bill law.

At issue was the so-called “pocket veto,” a constitutional provision that allows a governor to squelch a bill simply by not signing it.

Griffin said in his letter that the pocket veto does not apply in this instance. The governor did not return the unsigned bill to the Legislature, according to Griffin, but rather forwarded it to the secretary of state, indicating his tacit approval for it to become law.

“(The hemp bill) became law without the Governor’s signature because the governor did not return it with objections …” Griffin wrote. “Given the governor’s message to the House, that is the result the governor intended.”

The bill legalizes hemp in Vermont, but that doesn’t mean residents will be able to grow it. Federal statute, which supercedes state law, classifies hemp as a Schedule I narcotic and prohibits its cultivation.

Hemp, which is used to produce a wide variety of fibers for clothing and other purposes, is the same species as marijuana but is a variety that has virtually none of the ingredient that allows users to get high. Numerous farm advocates say growing hemp could provide a boost for Vermont’s farm economy.

Amy Shollenberger, head of Rural Vermont, lobbied on behalf of her farmers’ organization to get the hemp bill passed. She applauded Griffin’s opinion Friday and said Rural Vermont will now put pressure on the state’s congressional delegation to get the federal ban on hemp cultivation overturned.

“We’re really excited the bill will be allowed to go through,” Shollenberger said. “And we’re looking forward to talking with (Sen. Patrick) Leahy about getting the federal policy changed.”

Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)


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