Law enforcement group to rally support for legalized pot in Vermont

Marijuana smoking. VTD/Josh Larkin

Marijuana smoking. VTD/Josh Larkin

Some Vermont law enforcement officers were among the dissenters when the Legislature decriminalized marijuana last spring.

But next month, a law enforcement group is coming to the state to convince lawmakers and residents that the state is ready for the next step — legalization.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), founded in 2002, has roughly 100,000 members internationally, many, but not all, of whom are current or former law enforcement officials. The nonprofit organization advocates for regulation and taxation of drugs, which is says will reduce crime, costs and other problems by undermining the black market.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said recently that he supports marijuana legalization in Vermont, but he’s “neither willing nor proposing” to do it during the upcoming legislative session.

Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn backed the decriminalization law but has been more equivocal about his stance on legalization. Asked whether the Department of Public Safety supports legalization, he told Vermont Public Radio’s Jane Lindholm, “this is something we need to take a hard look at it.” Asked whether the department opposed legalization, Flynn responded, “We don’t know enough about it yet.”

Shumlin’s announcement came after the U.S. Justice Department issued a memo making clear that it would not interfere with state marijuana laws, for the time being, as long as proper regulatory structures are put in place.

Among lawmakers, even the most enthusiastic proponents of legalization have adopted a more patient approach.
“Typically in a biennium, you don’t tackle the same issue twice,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, a longtime advocate for legalization.

Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden, told how climate change is affecting his farm, Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Zuckerman points to Shumlin’s designation of legalization as a non-priority, and a number of other undertakings competing for the attention of the judiciary committees as reasons why he’s not banking on it happening in 2014.

But Zuckerman isn’t anticipating a long wait — he predicts legalization will pass within the next two years — and in the meantime, there’s work to be done and lawmakers to be swayed.

“I don’t think there are a lot of hurdles except for political patience,” Zuckerman said, but, “you’ve got to set the table before you have dinner.”

Pro-legalization groups, undeterred by calls for patience, appear to be doing just that. LEAP is bringing Richard Van Wickler, corrections superintendent for Cheshire County in New Hampshire, to speak at the Statehouse on Nov. 12. Zuckerman and two other lawmakers, Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, and Rep. Susan Davis, P-West Topsham, will also take part, but it was a private citizen who recruited the group to come.

“I very much appreciate what lawmakers have to do and I appreciate the difficult task before them and I understand they want to be careful with a reform of this magnitude,” Van Wickler said. But, even so, he plans to tell them that legalization is “the only solution.”

“One of things I’m going to point out,” Van Wickler said “is a decriminalized environment permits the illegal drug dealers to remain in business. They will continue to sell and you will continue to have gang war violence over the marketplace.”

The November event isn’t LEAP’s first ingress to the state, and it won’t be the last, according to Mike Smithson, LEAP’s speakers bureau director.

“We’ve been making a lot of forays into Vermont for the last few years and we’ve been getting more and more interest from legislators,” Smithson said, adding, “We do plan on coming back a lot.”

While the November event is public, Smithson said a large part of LEAP’s work involves quieter, one-to-one conversations with skeptical lawmakers. “We like to speak with legislators but we do it privately. We provide them cover until they are ready to come out to their constituents,” he said.

The group has also been visiting a number of civic groups — Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis clubs — around the state.

Smithson said the group did not invite law enforcement officials to the event, but that doesn’t mean it won’t reach out to them, too.

“It’s not like we are leaving them out,” he said. “The prohibition side [people against legalization] has pretty much owned the argument and we’ve never been invited to discuss our proposal at a public safety meeting. We neutralize the law enforcement that is opposed to drug reform.”

Van Wickler said that when he talks one-on-one with other members of the law enforcement community, they agree that legalization makes sense but back at their departments there’s a “pack mentality” that prevents them from speaking out.

“They are frightened about coming out and saying this is something that should be changed,” he said.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied for decriminalization in the state, has also honed in on Vermont and nine other states, where it will push for legalization by 2017.

Alicia Freese


  1. Jim Barrett :

    So now the deal is to push for legal pot smoking while it is being reported to the drug treatment centers are trying to be smoke free. Why is Shumlin approving of millions to be spent trying to stop people from smoking but encourages it with pot?

    • Peter Liston :

      Alcohol is legal and Shumlin agrees that it should be.

      Does that mean that he’s “encouraging” people to drink alcohol?

      • Jim Barrett :

        Maybe you are are, Shumlin may not be encouraging smoking but he sure as heck is removing all the barriers so it is easily available……..nice way to bring up a family wouldn’t you say. Drugs, smoking and the huge cost to American society means nothing to some. Hey KIDS, smoke it up and enjoy a good day at school trying to unlock this monster called dope!

        • Peter Liston :

          Sorry to break this to you but pot’s always been ‘easily available’.

          It was ‘easily available’ long before Shumlin and there is nothing that Shumlin can do to change that.

  2. Sandra Bettis :

    there is no reason that legalization should not happen this yr.

  3. Sandra Bettis :

    pot is much healthier than alcohol (when used to excess) or cigs (filled with chemicals). no one ever died from pot. noone.

  4. Mike Kerin :

    Prohibition has not worked! Lets treat pot like we do alcohol.

    • Peter Liston :

      Let’s be smarter about legalizing pot than we were about alcohol.

      It was a mistake to let big business take over the manufacture and distribution of alcohol.

      Let’s create policies that limit production of pot to a small, local scale.

      The last thing we need is another industry in the mold of big tobacco.

  5. Harry Wintoppe :

    About time. Keeping pot in the criminal code is a waste of time, money, law enforcement resources and a waste of Court time.
    Sell it at Liquor Stores with a tax on it

    • Jim Barrett :

      Would you also support the discontinuation of all advertising designed to stop people from smoking as that is the primary method for consuming pot? The state sued tobacco companies and were awarded hundreds of millions and now the state (SHUMLIN and legislature) are telling the young people it is fine to smoke as long as it is pot!!!! !!!!! No wonder the young are so confused with these double standards.

      • Sandra Bettis :

        cigarettes are filled with chemicals. pot is natural. do you think the young (or the old) should be criminalized for smoking pot? i guess you think our jails should be even more crowded than they are. legalize it and tax it.

  6. Jim Barrett :

    There are thousands in Vermont who enjoy pot by smoking it! Yet almost every evening at my home on TV I see ads describing how dangerous smoking is for our health and people in that ad look desperate. Oh yes, pot is natural….give me a break!

    • Sandra Bettis :

      pot is natural. cigarettes are not – at least not the majority that are filled with chemicals. how hard is that to understand. natural is good and chemicals are bad. i’m not sure why you don’t see the difference….

      • Jim Barrett :

        Thousands of things are considered natural including arsenic, just because you have been convinced that Mother Nature provided it doesn’t make it ok to consume!

        • Fred Woogmaster :

          Mr. Barrett: I take your comments seriously – but to somebody like me, who first smoked marijuana while serving in the Army in 1960 in Alaska, and who is a smoker today, your comments are kind of funny.

          Given its history, and its juxtaposition with other drugs (alcohol) the only rational approach is legalization, control and education. I understand and resemble Mr. Liston’s concerns about marijuana coming under the umbrella of corporate mentality.
          I wish legalization were not necessary because I still firmly believe that one should have the absolute authority to grow whatever he/she wants in their own garden with interference from no one.
          Certainly cannabis, marijuana and hemp, should be in that category.
          I respect your opinion Mr. Barrett, but –
          consider this: legalization will provide parents (and others) with greater opportunity to discuss the most important issue with children – that of development.
          Smoking ANYTHING prior to full maturity is a mistake. Now we talk in hushed tones, avoiding real conversation.
          I know marijuana, Mr. Barrett.
          Tobacco causes cancer; marijuana provides relief for a segment of society.
          Which do you prefer?

  7. Marijuana use can be smoke free. It can be vaporized, it can be infused with foods & tinctures. There is no correlation with marijuana smoking and an increased rate for cancer. In fact, recent studies have found that it is anti-cancer in its properties. Comparing marijuana to tobacco is like comparing grape juice to wine. Likely everything you believe about marijuana is a lie that’s been fed into your head for the past 70+ years since it was criminalized.

    This issue with “legal” vs decrim’d marijuana could have been alleviated if personal grows were allowed & kept in the decrim law that passed last session. Personal grows need to be safe from electrical fires and damage to private property. They should be zoned & inspected for compliance w/ regulations.

    It’s important that when VT legalizes marijuana, that the industry is open to small scale farms & grow operations. The current setup for dispensaries w/ vertical integration has created a great model for those dispensaries, but limits patient’s access to the plant that may help them best.

    Vermont needs a cannabis industry like its microbrew industry. It doesn’t need MPP’s lobbyists writing the law, it needs to come from the people in Vermont who want to establish the industry. Hopefully Ms. Davis & Mr. Zuckerman understand this.

  8. Paul Schindler :

    Amazingly, there are still some clueless parents out there who steer their kids towards the actually addictive and deadly hard drug alcohol in hopes od keeping them “safe” from pot. How many kids have died from that world class ignorance???

    • Jim Barrett :

      Those stupid parents who allow their children to taste alcohol and then treat them like idiots when they even suggest the other gateway drug….POT! How could a parent be in such denial that pot is just another natural drug !!!!! Why some have even suggested we tax the stuff and make money on the backs of stoned students!!!!

      • Fred Woogmaster :

        One lives and learns.
        Although I drink very little alcohol, special occasions, I have always had a fondness for “white russians”, an alcoholic beverage which I believe is made with milk or cream. Milk, a gateway ‘drug’ to alcoholic beverages? Hmmmmm!

        The notion that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to the use of ‘hard’ drugs is almost as ludicrous.

        Alcohol is THE most destructive drug in our society; bar none. Profit prevails. The people? Public health?

        Compared to the destruction caused by alcohol, marijuana is totally benign.
        Alienation in adolescence has many of its roots in adult hypocrisy.

        The LEAP folks have it right. I intend to stand with them when they come to Vermont.

        • Raymond Fortin :

          Amen I completely agree man fact of the matter is people against it drink or know someone that will drink on a bases the only reason that pot would be a gateway drug is cause people need to go to a drug dealer house to get marijuana if it was in stores people wouldn’t have to be exposed to the harder drugs we need more people to fight for our rights as Americans the constatuion was writin on hemp paper not a lot of people understand it was a way of life a long time ago we are just trying to bring it back just like people closet drank in the 1920s people smoke the same way now I know cops that smoke lawyers judges very respectable people good people that will not come out and say it cause they don’t want to be judged by prope like Jim Barrett we need to spread the word and make a impact man I just wanted to say thank you and keep up the good work

  9. Fred Woogmaster :

    I found Dan Rather’s Huffington Post blog on “pot” to be most interesting.

    Profit is lurking in the hearts of many.

    Capitalism, ya gotta love it.



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