Lawmakers briefed on RAND marijuana study

A group of state lawmakers was briefed Wednesday on a study of the legalization of marijuana being conducted by the RAND Corp.

The nonprofit’s Drug Policy Research Center was contracted to prepare an in-depth study of the potential financial and social impacts of legalization; its final report is due in January. Members of the Joint Fiscal Committee got an outline of the study Wednesday, and a statewide public hearing followed on Vermont Interactive Technologies.

Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said the study is expected to be the most comprehensive analysis of its kind. It will incorporate observations from Washington state and Colorado, which have legalized pot for recreational use. On Election Day, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., passed initiatives in favor of legalization.

Beau Kilmer (right), co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, and Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding brief lawmakers Wednesday on the RAND study of marijuana legalization in Vermont. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Beau Kilmer (right), co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, and Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding brief lawmakers Wednesday on the RAND study of marijuana legalization in Vermont. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Beau Kilmer, co-director of RAND’s drug policy research center, outlined the shape of his group’s research. Kilmer said RAND does not have a position on marijuana legalization.

Kilmer said lawmakers should expect a near book-length treatise covering four major areas: the marijuana “landscape” in Vermont, from market demand to the money spent on enforcing current laws; an analysis of health and safety issues that put the growing body of research into context; alternative policy designs for taxation and regulation, should Vermont choose legalization; and financial projections about consumption, revenues and related costs.

He stressed that pot remains illegal under federal law. An August 2013 U.S. Department of Justice memo indicates that, for the time being, prosecutors under the current administration will not block state-by-state legalization, so long as strong regulatory systems are in place. But technically, Kilmer said, that policy could change.

RAND has identified nine areas of inquiry to inform lawmakers’ decisions:

1. Production: How will the number of producers and their production methods be regulated?

2. Profit motive: Does Vermont want to allow for-profit companies to enter the market, find other ways to raise revenues from nonprofits or control distribution through the state?

3. Promotions: How will advertising be regulated in a way that satisfies the state’s interests without infringing on constitutional free-speech rights?

4. Prevention: How will prevention messages be balanced with promotions? And how will prevention and treatment be funded until revenues start coming in, especially because marijuana use can have secondary impacts on alcohol, tobacco and opiate use?

5. Penalties: Legalization, which typically affects only people 21 years or older, does not eliminate marijuana-related police contact. How will criminal offenses and fines change, and how will driving under the influence be managed?

6. Potency: What will thresholds be for legal marijuana’s strength?

7. Purity: How will the presence of molds or pesticides, for example, be regulated — especially when it comes to edible marijuana?

8. Price: There’s a delicate balance between price, demand and revenues. How will pricing be structured and what will its effect be on the black market?

9. Permanency: How will flexibility be built into all these policies in order to respond to lessons and changing conditions?

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, was particularly concerned about the effect of legalization on the black market and enforcement. His understanding is that revenues generated in Washington have gone mostly to enforcement, leaving little in state coffers to help cover other budget demands.

Kilmer responded that enforcement costs have been slow to come down there because Washington chose to roll out legalization slowly, so the black market is still competitive.

Depending on how access and price are set, he said, the black market will be affected differently. He said the speed of rollout is one aspect of legalization lawmakers will have to set, if they choose the path of legalization.

Even more fundamental questions will need to be closely examined, he said, such as whether the goal of legalization is to eliminate the black market for the drug.

Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, asked about how legalization might change the culture of Vermont. Full-page ads he has seen in Colorado newspapers, for example, might be jarring to some families.

“Also in Colorado you can take pot bus tours,” Ashe said. “That visual is something that would be very different.”

Spaulding said that depending on how regulatory levers may be set, the state could have more or less control over many of these factors. On one end of the spectrum, he said, is opening the market to commercial ventures. On the other end, Vermont could choose to control marijuana distribution the same way it controls liquor sales.

Public discussion

A public hearing moderated by Kilmer and Spaulding took place on closed circuit television in towns around the state Wednesday.

The debate was lively and featured reasoned arguments on both sides of the issue. Kilmer called it an “amazingly civil discussion,” to which Spaulding replied “It’s Vermont.”

Speakers against legalization expressed concerns about addiction and marijuana’s reputation as a “gateway” to harder drug use. Others cited new research on brain development in adolescents that suggests pot smoking can have adverse effects. Still others cited public safety concerns.

Rutland Mayor Chris Louras and others said they wanted Vermont to slow down and make the “decision based on facts and data.” They wanted more time to evaluate the results in Colorado and Washington.

Substance abuse counselor Debby Haskins said legalization will make some youths believe pot use is OK.

Those who support the legalization of marijuana said legalization would eliminate the black market (and its link to dealers who offer harder drugs), help regulate the potency and purity of the product and allow for the development of more medicinal, nutritional and spiritual uses for cannabis.

Rutland attorney Lars Lundeen said he sees a lot more damage caused by people using alcohol than marijuana. He said a conviction for using pot adversely affects a person’s employment prospects, and that the law is enforced unequally — with minorities and young people bearing the brunt of prosecution.

Notably, very few of the speakers on either side cited the revenue potential from taxing the sale of marijuana as a reason for or against legalization.

One man in Newport saw legalization as an agri-business opportunity.

“I’m a farmer,” he said. “If it’s legal, want to grow it.”

Earlier Wednesday, Governor Shumlin was asked about the issue at his press conference. He praised the RAND team’s work, and said the study “will give us the data we need to make an informed decision.”

He said he wants to “wait and see what the report says, and take the temperature of the legislative leadership.” He added that he is personally in favor of legalization; “the question is when.”

VTDigger’s Tom Brown contributed to this report.

Hilary Niles

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52 Comments on "Lawmakers briefed on RAND marijuana study"

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Mary Daly
1 year 9 months ago

So we turn fields that currently grow food into fields of marijuana when there is concern about the long term ability for the world to grow enough food to feed the masses. Another reason to throw this bad idea out with the bath water.

Neil Gerdes
1 year 9 months ago

There are plenty of unused fields that are going to brush that could be used to grow marijuana. That is a false argument.

Glenn Thompson
1 year 9 months ago

Why would you want to grow Marijuana instead of food?

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

Cannabis IS food.

Dave Gibson
1 year 9 months ago

I don’t think we’re talking about vast fields. The amount of space needed to meet demand of Vermont consumers would be measured at the most in tens of acres, not hundreds.

John Greenberg
1 year 9 months ago

Glenn:
I thought you were a good capitalist: “Why would you want to grow Marijuana instead of food?” Because you can make more money by doing so! Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?

Peter Liston
1 year 9 months ago

Marijuana is being grown now. Land for growing it is already allocated. This is simply a discussion about how it’s going to be distributed.

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

It has long been known that the global problem with food shortages is not one of supply, but of distribution. Try harder.

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

“Substance abuse counselor Debby Haskins” is also a Prohibition profiteer and shill for the out-of-state lobbying group SMART, which is a chapter of Kevin Sabet’s SAM organization. Ms Haskins’ source of income depends upon the continued criminalization of Cannabis. Her opinions that are masqueraded as facts should have no bearing in this discussion.

1 year 9 months ago
I fail to see how legalizing marijuana would add any positive social aspects to Vermont. If this is a revenue issue, why not just through up a couple Casino’s? I fail to see what good this will bring to Vermont, other then making it harder to teach our children to stay away from it. Teaching our children about under age drinking is difficult enough, now the state wants to add this to the list. It’s one thing to de criminalize it, but to have the sate promote it and tap it as another “sin” tax sends the wrong message. We… Read more »
Hale Irrwin
1 year 9 months ago

I believe that the use of Marijuana in many of its forms has increased dramatically in under age kids in Colorado… Like sitting in class – ostensibly sucking on a pen – but vaping THC!

Mike Parent
1 year 9 months ago
For starters all that expensive police effort and court time for MJ enforcement would cease and those are saved dollars The Children is a Red Herring; “THE CHILDREN” If they really cared for the children they’d legalize and regulate marijuana. If they really wanted to keep any substance out of the hands of “The Children” they first must take control of distribution away from black market dealers. They haven’t accomplished that in 40+ years at a taxpayers cost in the hundreds of billions. It’s time to treat marijuana as we do alcohol. My 28 year old still gets “carded ”… Read more »
Glenn Thompson
1 year 9 months ago

Perhaps you didn’t see these articles?

http://jacksonville.com/breaking-news/2014-11-12/story/study-heavy-marijuana-use-lowers-iq-alters-shape-brains

http://www.cadca.org/resources/detail/youth-marijuana-use-rises-nearly-11-percent-colorado-medical-legalization

http://www.vox.com/2014/9/24/6538227/marijuana-pot-adolescent-teen-use-research-studies

Studies like this…factual or not should at least set off alarm bells for those raising children! In this state there appears to be more concern for GMO food sources then what happens to a kid who smokes to much pot?

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago
The availability of Cannabis to minors in an unregulated market is such that it is no longer a matter of IF a minor can acquire Cannabis, but how long it takes. Further, in an unregulated market, the purveyors of illicit substances frequently also provide access to opiates, heroin and more. Legalization will divert a substantial black market money stream into the legitimate economy and allow for regulatory oversight. This really is a simple equation, that is obfuscated by the Prohibition Industry. PS–There is no such thing as ‘big marijuana’. That is a Rovian tactic f repeating a lie until it… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

Do you also believe in unicorns?

1 year 9 months ago
Joel, I would ask the same of you. Do you believe in unicorns, or perhaps I should say do you believe in Dionysos? ” That is a Rovian tactic f repeating a lie until it gains traction. And it is hogwash.” Perhaps, you should take a peak in the mirror. It’s seems you are singing the same song, just to a different tune. You continue to dance around my question. Which make me curious if you actually have anything substantial to say, other then the rhetoric that you have convinced yourself of. “Further, in an unregulated market, the purveyors of… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago
It has been less than 11 months, and there is conclusive data that points to a 60+% reduction in black market purchases in Colorado. Additionally, there have been multiple coordinated ‘stings’ of dispensaries that have yet to identify a single instance of sales to minors. Do the math–minors can only access Cannabis in Colorado from–stay with me here–the unregulated, black market. Legalization of Cannabis is working. Lastly, I have danced around nothing–I will call out every single one of you propaganda parrots at every turn, as you have nothing tangible to support the continued prohibition of Cannabis.
Glenn Thompson
1 year 9 months ago

Your point?

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago
As an addendum to the market share discussion, the State of Colorado Dept of Revenue website details over $53milUSD in tax revenues collected for Calendar Year 2014 to date. This represents all retail sales and licensing fees for Cannabis. CO is not on a calendar fiscal year, so you’ll have to do the math. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/revenue/colorado-marijuana-tax-data In regards to the question of market share between black and legitimate market, here are a few references: The break down of market share: http://wallstcheatsheet.com/business/legal-marijuana-shortages-drive-consumers-to-the-black-market.html/?a=viewall The policy approach and projections for Colorado in regards to market share: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Market%20Size%20and%20Demand%20Study,%20July%209,%202014%5B1%5D.pdf And for the win: http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_26937941/big-changes-coming-colorados-marijuana-market “Prices for… Read more »
Mike Parent
1 year 9 months ago
For starters all that expensive police effort and court time for MJ enforcement would cease and those are saved dollars The Children is a Red Herring; “THE CHILDREN” If they really cared for the children they’d legalize and regulate marijuana. If they really wanted to keep any substance out of the hands of “The Children” they first must take control of distribution away from black market dealers. They haven’t accomplished that in 40+ years at a taxpayers cost in the hundreds of billions. It’s time to treat marijuana as we do alcohol. My 28 year old still gets “carded ”… Read more »
Mike Ferzoco
1 year 9 months ago

To all you folks obsessed with “the children”- the message is simple-you can’t have any! You can’t childproof the world. So, kids, don’t touch my cigars, my whiskey, my guns or my weed. Simple.

1 year 9 months ago

“Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, was particularly concerned about the effect of legalization on the black market and enforcement. ”
You would have thought we would have learned something from prohibition. It didn’t keep otherwise law abiding citizens from drinking, benefited organized crime, and corrupted the legal system.

1 year 9 months ago
So at what point to we but the brakes on as a society? I ask this question not directly at you, but since you made the point to bring up prohibition, should we therefore through in the towel? Do we stop at Marijuana, or say coke… crack.. heroin? Where does the buck stop?There are plenty of otherwise law abiding citizens that on social occasions use coke. Does that make it something that is socially okay? If not why not? As I pointed out above there in no intrinsic value to our society that I can see having the state put… Read more »
Mike Parent
1 year 9 months ago

We’d all be better off if the police focused on crimes that have actual victims!

Does anyone honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance Scientifically proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

Don Peterson
1 year 9 months ago

Cheer up– it moves the story line away from the weakness of the Governors mandate to manage the ship of state, and it wins him some much needed revenue.

But governments probably should not appear to encourage impairment by profiting from it.

1 year 9 months ago

Only cigarettes and alcohol?

Jim Brochhausen
1 year 9 months ago

Pot is one of the most Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) that Vermonters consume. That’s why it is more potent these days versus 20 years ago.

Seems very contrarian, in VT, to legalize one of the Bio-engineering industry’s biggest products. Will our local drug dealers be required to label it as a GMO product?

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

Your statement is a complete and utter lie. Cannabis has been hybridized by selective breeding, NOT from genetic modification, and YES, there is a difference.

Further, the only increases in potency have been derived from improvements in cultivation and handling. The landrace strains from subequatorial regions have ALWAYS been extremely potent.

Again, potency has NOT increased.

Jim Brochhausen
1 year 9 months ago

Sorry, an inconvenient truth!

The following link has over ONE MILLION, ARTICLES that discuss the GMO of pot.

http://www.bing.com/search?q=%2bhas+marijuana++genetically+modified%3f&FORM=SSRE

Do you really think that one of the largest CASH crops in the world would be immune to GMO engineering? Is that would you have us believe?

So perhaps you might concede that maybe some, if not most, of the pot in VT has been GMO’d, by our good/capitalistic friends in Mexico, Asia, CA and S. America.

So, my question stands.

Should our local/socially responsible drug dealers provide GMO labeling for the weed they sell?

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago
So, what you are implying, is that Mexican cartels have somehow moved on from digging tunnels to genetic modification technology? You actually believe that? Honestly, you are introducing one of the strangest canards of which I have seen into this discussion. The DEA attempted to clone Cannabis’ properties a few years back, and just like that, ‘Spice’ was born. Monsanto has been playing around with GMO Cannabis for years in an attempt to REMOVE the psychotropic characteristics of Cannabis. But if you think that there are clandestine gene-splicing labs out there focusing on Cannabis, you are out of your gourd.
Jim Brochhausen
1 year 9 months ago
Yes, it is genetically modified. Here’s an example from the Huffington Post. I could send you a thousand more articles like this. Dr Cascini has investigated the prospect of genetic modification, and in one sample she tested she found a trace of a substance often associated with genetically modified crops, strengthening concerns that some strains of cannabis have been genetically modified. DR. Cascini also points out that genetic modification of plants used to produce psychoactive drugs has already definitely happened. Research recently published in the academic journal ‘Plant Biotechnology Journal’ demonstrated it was possible to genetically modify the morphine poppy… Read more »
Jim Brochhausen
1 year 9 months ago
Huffington Post: Dr Cascini has investigated the prospect of genetic modification, and in one sample she tested she found a trace of a substance often associated with genetically modified crops, strengthening concerns that some strains of cannabis have been genetically modified. Hawaii Free Press: The University of Central Florida even has a pending US Patent for a cannabis sativa genetic modification technique. In 2011, the genome of cannabis sativa was sequenced and published by British company Medicinal Genomics. GM marijuana is so widespread it was written up by AFP, June 24, 2011: Greenhouses lined with genetically modified marijuana sit on… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago
This thread is capped on ‘replying’ to specific posts, so I will place my reply to Jim Brochhausen here: I could send you a thousand references contradicting yours–polyploidy resulting from the application of colchicine is not gene-splicing. There are also methods of influencing growth with the applications of gibberellic acid and silver thiosulfate, but these are not GMO methods. Polyploidy will yield mutations, and that is to what researchers such as Dr Casciniare referring. Additionally, Cannabis has been extensively hybridized, resulting in an increased incident of genetic ‘sports’. But there is absolutely zero way to identify a GMO marker in… Read more »
Jason Wells
1 year 9 months ago
Your link proves nothing in fact there are no gmo pot crops out on the market the genome has been sequenced but its still a long way ahead before that sort of stuff would be out in the market vs. some lab at montsanto. To whomever said there is no “Big Marijuana” you should put down the bong for a bit because it’s true. Large grower/seller collective’s, multi state dispensary owners have co opted groups like The Marijuana Policy Project to push more “regulation” rather than legalization and decrim. Their proposals put the average small business guy unable to get… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago
How cute, a ‘put down the bong’ inference in what should be an honest dialogue. Kevin Sabet coined the term in an attempt to frame the burgeoning Cannabis industry as some nefarious bogeyman, when in fact, it is the entirely predictable evolution of a free market business model. It boggles the mind that publicly traded corporate prisons are perfectly acceptable, but growing, profitable businesses on the legalization side are decried. ‘Big marijuana’ is a myth. With billions in black market revenue being diverted into the free market, what did anyone think was going to happen? It is an economic gold… Read more »
Bill Olenick
1 year 9 months ago

Good point
Keep it local including regulations.

Jason Wells
1 year 9 months ago
Joel, An economic gold rush for sure and one that the very few can afford to participate in. With non refundable applications fees ranging from 10,000 to many 100’s of thousands just who do you think will be able to afford the fees? Not local VT farmers or middle class folks for sure. I think the fee in mass was around 40,000 non refundable and one guy they ex States Attorney Delahunt I believe was his name got 4 of the 11 dispensary spots. I am all for guys from CO or CA coming in and setting up shop but… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

Is it any different than wanted to purchase a fast-food or other franchise right? Your observations are of a capitalist economy–those that have money, wherewithal, drive and ambition end up rising to the top. Of course the fix is in, especially in Massachusetts, where former State Police are going to be running dispensaries. But nobody should be shocked by this outcome–the political landscape has been tilted for years. The Prohibition industry created this monster–legalization is at least an effort to unravel it all.

1 year 9 months ago

I am for legalization of cannabis as a drug crop, a food crop and a fiber crop. If it were legal without the current cumbersome regulation i would be growing hemp seed as chicken feed.

All that being said, i am horrified that the State of VT contracted with the Rand corporation, a corporation that has long been associated with hiding the truth from the American Public (see the pentagon papers) and advising the country in highly unethical acts of war.

1 year 9 months ago

I also wondered about the Rand Corp.

ray giroux
1 year 9 months ago
Marina – I agree! It is shameful our State would employ this Corp! All those armored vehicles being distributed throughout the US? – Rand Corp. They make Billions off the tax payers and the War Machine. SO, while reading this article, all I could think was, “why are they making this so complicated”? The answer – they want the appearance of the State being in CONTROL of this BAD substance THEY ARE ABOUT TO LEGALIZE! Now, all they have to do is, try to find a problem for the solutions they are coming up with. Smoker or not a smoker,… Read more »
David Dempsey
1 year 9 months ago

I think the legislature has more pressing issues to deal with than this to work on, like education funding, forcing people to use a health exchange that doesn’t work, out of control spending to name a few.

Kim Fried
1 year 9 months ago

I, like Paul Burns, Tony Klein and the Governor just don’t care about this issue because Vermont won’t be the leader, the trailblazer or the first. If Vermont isn’t the first, what the hell. I would however really like to know what they are smoking, it’s has to be a hybrid for sure.

Clay Gilbert
1 year 9 months ago

It is a complex issue. First in adolescents, there is very solid research that shows it does decrease IQ by about 10 points and doesn’t return even if the person stops using marijuana. Second, saying it is less harmful tan alcohol is like saying a knife is less harmful than a pistol. Third, I do recognize that there are a lot of positive aspects of legalization. I would like to see the process go slowly while seeing what has happened in Colorado (which doesn’t seem good) and Washington and plan a course learning from those strategies.

Fred Woogmaster
1 year 9 months ago
“…saying it is less harmful than alcohol is like saying a knife is less harmful than a pistol”, Mr. Gilbert? It, marijuana, is FAR less harmful than alcohol, demonstrated and proven every day. Your point in relation to development makes sense to me nonetheless. When legalized, more real discussion can take place, so that young people become informed about just that issue. There are many “substances” including caffeine and perhaps sugar, that would be best not ingested by those who have not achieved full development. Marijuana, I believe to be one of those substances. Although I have been a self-prescribed… Read more »
Jason Wells
1 year 9 months ago

But after all the wrangling at the end of the day its just a plant and should be treated as such meaning its none of the States business at all.

1 year 9 months ago

And so is the coca plant. We all know what is derived from that. Should that be treated just the same?

Jason Wells
1 year 9 months ago

Until we have a “Constitutional Amendment” prohibiting it like we did with alcohol yes. It is not anyones business what you may or may not put in your body.Perhaps you should google Freeway Ricky Ross to see what happens when substances are illegal.

Joel Bedard
1 year 9 months ago

Hey Randall–ask the next pharmaceutical professional you come across to look up US Patent 6630507 in regards to the definition, who owns it, and how it might contradict Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act–and get back to us.

We’ll be waiting.

steve merrill
1 year 9 months ago
JB–YES! Google that patent # and read the studies referenced in the end, they’re all there @ your fingertips..What ever happened to Brandeis’s saying about “the right to be left alone”? As a native New Englander and (now) an old Yankee myself, we had some old timers saying “So–How’s that Affect YOU exactly?” This is about a basic freedom for those of us who choose NOT to drink the addictive, flammable, liquid cancer-hol..And drivers “impaired”? A CHP buddy used to say to me “the drunks drive too fast, the stoners too slow, and the rest are applying make-up or eating… Read more »
Pete Novick
1 year 9 months ago
Pete’s marijuana to-do list: 1. Ask the state legislature to try a day of work while high. 2. Encourage public schools to show old Cheech and Chong movies as part of their driver’s education program 3. Lobby state regulators to require Vermont-grown marijuana to be packaged in a uniform manner, the way Vermont maple syrup is sold today. I would suggest a metal box with a tight-fitting lid. Maybe lined with something. Blast from the past: I first learned about the RAND Corporation when researching a paper as an undergraduate (a long, long time ago) about deterrence (the primary text… Read more »
1 year 9 months ago
I fail to understand how arguments about diminished IQ’s as a result of marijuana use pertain to a debate about legalizing recreational marijuana use in Vermont. SPOILER ALERT—marijuana is already widely available to youth in Vermont under the current regime along with a host of white and now brown powders. Perhaps the fools that advance these impotent arguments smoked way too much pot back in the day because they certainly advance some stupid ideas. Maybe living in fear makes you stupid because I note a tinge of cowardice in those who oppose marijuana law reform. Holland which has ignored it’s… Read more »
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