A national marijuana advocacy group says Gov. Peter Shumlin is one of three sitting governors in the last 40 years to aggressively support cannibas legal reform and the only current up and coming politician with national reach to push for the decriminalization of pot possession.
NORML, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has advocated for legalization of marijuana for 42 years, will give Shumlin $2,000 this week. (The governor phoned the organization recently and asked for the maximum contribution of $6,000 for a political action committee. NORML typically gives candidates about $500.)
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, wrote a blog post last week about the organization’s contribution to Shumlin and enthusiastically encouraged members of the advocacy group to send their donations directly to the Vermont governor.
Shumlin is cashing in on the pot crowd because he is, according to St. Pierre, a “standout” candidate. No one since Jimmy Carter, who supported decriminalization of marijuana in the 1970s as governor of Georgia, has been as likely to push for legal reforms that could have an impact on the national scene, he said.
The governor’s interest in pressing for decriminalization in Vermont is impressive, according to St. Pierre, even though last year’s effort failed when House Speaker Shap Smith rejected a legislative proposal. What really jazzed the NORML board though is the governor’s willingness to go public on the decriminalization. Shumlin gave a notable speech in support of marijuana reforms at a drug policy conference last year. The governor’s Beltway ambitions don’t hurt, either,Shumlin is in the running for the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association.
“Shumlin gets it, and in his capacity as governor, he is trying to use that bully pulpit,” St. Pierre said.
Sen. Randy Brock, the GOP contender for governor, blasted Shumlin last week in news reports about the governor’s solicitation of a contribution from NORML.
“Obviously, the governor and I don’t agree,” Brock said. “It’s kind of astounding to me that the governor would go out and approach NORML in order to get money from an organization whose end goal is to legalize marijuana — not just decriminalize it. I just find it very inappropriate.”
Brock says he doesn’t favor locking up first time marijuana users. Decriminalization, however, he says is “just one step toward legalization.” At a time when the state has “such a drug problem” with the highest per capita marijuana use among teens in the country, Brock said, “this sends a terrible message to kids that we have a governor who wants to do this.”
Alex MacLean, the governor’s Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs and erstwhile campaign manager, responded to Brock’s attack while the governor was vacationing at his summer home in Nova Scotia. Shumlin, she says, “has held this position and this belief that we should be decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana for a long time and this organization shares the same goal.”
MacLean shrugs off concern about the connection between money and policymaking. “This is the way fundraising works in modern day campaigning,” she says.
Polls show that most Vermonters want pot to be decriminalized.
Brock says popular support doesn’t justify the governor’s overt backing of reforms.
“I don’t think you should lead through polling,” Brock said. “You should lead by doing the right thing and exercising moral authority.”
Marijuana use, he said, is not a “victimless crime” as it is part of a broader array of criminal activity associated with the Mexican border.
St. Pierre said since the reports came out about NORML’s donation to Shumlin, three sitting Vermont legislators have contacted his organization for donations. Two former legislators who are now lobbyists also called — looking for work.
Four states, so far, have legalized marijuana outright, St. Pierre said. Seventeen allow the sale of medical marijuana and 14 have passed decriminalization laws, he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is also on the bandwagon. Vermont’s junior senator is part of what St. Pierre calls the “cannibas caucus in Congress.” Sanders has joined a coalition of bipartisan senators who introduced a bill legalizing industrial hemp last week.