Marijuana advocate plans full-time legalization push in Montpelier

Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, announced Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, the formation of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, a collaboration of groups that support the legalization of marijuana in Vermont. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project. File photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, is moving to greener pastures.

The advocate for legal cannabis is currently based out of New Hampshire, but the intransigence in the Granite State when it comes to marijuana policy has convinced Simon that it’s time for a change of scenery.

“The stars seem to be aligning [for legalization] in Vermont,” Simon told VTDigger on Tuesday. “We can’t even get the New Hampshire Senate to have an adult conversation about the relative merits of legalization.”

Simon said he plans to move to the Green Mountain State, and more specifically Montpelier, in January for the upcoming legislative session, where the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana is expected to be a focus.

He points to widespread support from the executive branch in Vermont as a hopeful sign. Gov. Peter Shumlin and Attorney General Bill Sorrell have expressed qualified support for legalization, and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn has indicated he won’t oppose legalization — stopping just short of endorsing it.

That’s in stark contrast to New Hampshire’s executive branch, which has resisted the smaller step of marijuana decriminalization, Simon said. The New Hampshire Legislature is also more resistant to marijuana reforms than Vermont’s, he said. The New Hampshire Senate rejected a House-passed bill to study marijuana legalization this year, and it has also shot down decriminalization. Both are steps Vermont has already taken.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” he said. While he doesn’t expect the Legislature in Vermont to “rubber stamp” a legalization bill, he sees far greater opportunity west of the Connecticut River. Simon hopes another election will change things in New Hampshire. That’s because Simon is optimistic 2016 will be a big year for marijuana legalization in New England.

The Marijuana Policy Project anticipates getting legalization referendums onto the ballot in Massachusetts and Maine, Simon said, and he’s optimistic they will pass. If Vermont is able to legalize marijuana through its Legislature (there are no ballot referendums in Vermont), then New Hampshire will be left on a “prohibitionist island.” That could make things look different for lawmakers and the executive branch in New Hampshire going forward, he said.

If adopted, Vermont would be the first state to legalize the use of recreational pot through its Legislature.

Shap Smith on board

Simon’s aspirations for legalization in Vermont received a major boost this week when House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democratic candidate for governor, told VPR he would support legalization — as long as it’s done thoughtfully.

While he hasn’t actively opposed marijuana legalization, Smith has not made its passage a priority in the House.

In an interview with VTDigger on Tuesday, Smith said for the past year-and-a-half his position has been that Vermont should wait and see how legalization plays out in states like Washington and Colorado, to see what the impacts are and what lessons could be learned.

Based on what he’s observed in those states, and his ongoing conversation with Vermonters, Smith said he thinks Vermont can responsibly legalize marijuana in the upcoming session. The details are going to matter, Smith said, though he wasn’t prepared to delve into them Tuesday.

Smith said he expects a bill to come over from the Senate, and if that happens, it will get a full hearing in the House.

“We’ll see if we can move it forward this year,” he said. “If we do it the right way, I’m going to support legalization. I think what’s most important is for us to get it right. It’s not how fast we do it.”

Smith’s words are music to the ears of Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, who has in the past introduced legislation to legalize marijuana. In a statement coordinated with the Progressive Party, Zuckerman said he’s pleased with the speaker’s “sensible and proactive approach as we move toward legalization and regulation of cannabis.”

“His support will be welcome this coming legislative session,” Zuckerman added.

Correction (Sept. 2, 7:40 a.m.): This story has been updated to reflect that the New Hampshire Senate rejected a marijuana legalization study bill and decriminalization legislation.

Morgan True

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51 Comments on "Marijuana advocate plans full-time legalization push in Montpelier"

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James Mason
1 year 23 days ago

“While he hasn’t actively opposed marijuana legalization, Smith has not made its passage a priority in the House.”

That’s a pretty generous take on Smith’s history. More accurate might be to say he personally and publicly opposed the idea of legalization and used his power as Speaker to put every legalization bill into committee purgatory.

michael olcott
1 year 22 days ago

We seriously need to figure out a way to remove this loophole in the legislative process that kills so many good bills. i know the reason its there but it’s become perverted and is past its time.

1 year 22 days ago

Listen to the Vermont Edition interview a few days back. He gave it significant support. Cast it as inevitable.

Neil Johnson
1 year 18 days ago

An accurate and humorous way our state is dealing with drugs and our tax issues

https://www.citizenreports.us/drug-dealers-mentor-local-officials/

Rick Veitch
1 year 22 days ago
While one can applaud Senator Zuckerman for introducing S.95, a close reading of his bill reveals it no “legalization” but just another form of prohibition. It is loaded with heavy taxes, new bureaucracy and sadly, fines and jail terms for Vermonters who would grow more than two plants. http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/2016/Docs/BILLS/S-0095/S-0095%20As%20Introduced.pdf Current prohibition has not stopped Vermonters from growing some of the best cannabis in the world while building an underground economy that the state estimates between $125-225 million. The only way legalization will work is if all that talent, expertise and passion is brought out of the woods. Cannabis is a… Read more »
Tom Sullivan
1 year 22 days ago

Hey Rick,

Of course Senator Zuckerman’s bill is laden with “heavy taxes and bureaucracy”, he’s a progressive.

Republican Senator Joe Benning is also a proponent of legalization. And he being a republican proponent, his bill (if he is so inclined to draft a bill) would likely have less taxation and less bureaucracy.

So I would forget Senator Zuckerman’s bill, and call (or write) Senator Benning and get his perspective on a new bill.

1 year 22 days ago
I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to weigh in here Tom. Thanks for the reference. The trick to legalizing is to do it in a “Vermont way.” My vision of that would be to: 1. Keep it out of the hands of minors, with appropriate safeguards and education. This would, obviously, require some level of bureaucracy and taxation. 2. Design a licensing system for those seeking to supply retailers and/or become retailers. This would also, obviously, require some level of bureaucracy and taxation. 3. Design an enforcement system so that criminal elements are discouraged. Once again, this would require some… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
1 year 22 days ago

Sen. Benning,

Would you support any type of taxation being classified as a fee, therefore, only going directly to the initiatives that you outlined above?

The temptation to use this as a cure all for underlying revenue/spending issues is too great. If Vermont wants to make it legal, the revenue must be targeted and not put into a slush fund for every lobbyist out there to try to get their hand on.

Rich Lachapelle
1 year 22 days ago

Sen. Benning, to distinguish yourself from these opportunistic Democrats, please be sure to overtly emphasize your advocacy for legalization based on the individual freedom aspects and not on it’s potential for revenue.
This would include arguing against any onerous restrictions on those who wish to produce their own, within reasonable limits. Some people have no desire to procure MJ either from the black market or from approved government regulated/taxed sources. It should be dealt with no differently than home brewing of beer, which has been legal since the Carter Presidency.

jason wells
1 year 22 days ago

Excellent comment Rich! Thank you

Neil Johnson
1 year 22 days ago

Our representatives want to adopt another “sexy bill”, the first in the nation type of thing.

They would rather do this than balance a budget and get our state in fiscal order.

What actual benefit is there for legalizing it? It’s federally a crime. It’s horrendous for you health. It’s a promotion of checking out rather than being engaged with life.

Does anyone seriously believe that legalizing pot is the answer to our problems? That it’s sending the right message to our kids?

COPD, Lung Cancer…..that’s the road this eventually leads to.

Rick Veitch
1 year 22 days ago
Hi Neil, This from the National Institute of Health website abstract for the 2013 study “Effects of Marijuana Smoking On the Lung”: Regular smoking of marijuana by itself causes visible and microscopic injury to the large airways that is consistently associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis that subside after cessation of use. On the other hand, habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function when assessed either cross-sectionally or longitudinally, except for possible increases in lung volumes and modest increases in airway resistance of unclear clinical significance. Therefore,… Read more »
Neil Johnson
1 year 20 days ago

Is this magic smoke? Hasn’t big tobacco produced results like this?

Sen. David Zuckerman
1 year 22 days ago
I appreciate the feedback. It is important to remember that to get the conversation going and legitimately moving, I had to put a range of ideas on the table. I do not believe that my own bill is the perfect bill. It has been great that so many people are interested in adding ideas and suggestions as we move forward. Having talked with many across the state there were some common themes expressed to me. One of the biggest was to be sure that people could grow their own. That is allowed in the bill….and I think we allowed enough… Read more »
Francis Janik
1 year 22 days ago

David, Please continue to fight for a true legalization of this plant. I certainly recognize the hurdles that any Bill must overcome to become law. I ask for your support of the 10’x10′ home grow option. We must not be arresting Vermonters for the use of cannabis .

Michelle Salvador
1 year 21 days ago
There will also social and economic costs to legalization that I don’t hear many talking about. Fact: individuals who use substances prior to the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to develop chemical dependency in their life than those that initiate use after the brain is done developing in the 20’s. Like it or not that is a scientific fact. We also know that when you increase access and availability, the age of use and the age of initiation of use decreases. Same is true when you normalize use of a substance. For a state that is so… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 21 days ago

The ‘gateway theory’ is not a fact. It has been debunked as far back as the LaGuardia Commission.

Neil Johnson
1 year 18 days ago
So….then people just decide one day, I’m having a really tough time in life, or my life really sucks. I think I’ll start doing heroine, where can I find a dealer? Perhaps it’s not THE gateway drug. But people start coping with life by checking out rather than dealing with the problems. So they hang out with like minds. Alcohol, Pot, Speed, which leads to more denial and bigger problems Then at some party they run across someone doing other drugs and try it. I’d be open to discussion on “How people get hooked on heroine.” People are doing it,… Read more »
Rick Veitch
1 year 21 days ago
David, thanks for posting (and thanks for your work in this matter). S.95, as currently written, allows for two mature plants and seven immature plats grown in a secure indoor facility. The language appears to be from the Vermont Medical Marijuana law. S.95 calls for a six month jail sentence for any adult possessing more than one ounce outside of the locked facility. Under the bill, possessing six mature plants will lead to a five year jail sentence. Possessing twelve mature plants will land a Vermonter fifteen years in prison. The bill sets forth fees for cultivation permits between $1000… Read more »
Mike Ferzoco
1 year 22 days ago

Tom Sullivan- Republicans are bad for citizens. When will repubs realize taxes are the price we pay to live in a civil society? Is it possible to drop the phony “big government” mantra? Legalization means commerce, and that involves some sort of taxation. That’s just reality.

Fred Woogmaster
1 year 22 days ago

Given its history, especially the spurious Federal classification, legalization is the only rational action.

Go one step further, Mr. Smith. Create a plank in your platform to call for Vermont to directly challenge the misguided Federal classification of marijuana and hemp.

Robust hemp production could fund much of the State’s budget.

Mary Daly
1 year 22 days ago

Legalizing marijuana is sooooooo not a good thing for Vermont or anywhere else. What are you thinking or maybe you have been smoking too much and not even able to think anymore? Do we not already have a big drug problem that is costing the State a lot in money and people? It has been proven to be harmful, why condone it???

Peter Starr
1 year 22 days ago

You’re absolutely right Mary, that Alcohol problem is atrocious!

Francis Janik
1 year 22 days ago

Mary, The Heroin and prescription drug, alcohol and tobacco problems are a cause for concern. The cannabis plant has many uses. It has been used to help those who are addicted to these deadly substances. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Sean Joyce
1 year 21 days ago
What exactly has been proven harmful? Last I checked it never has been linked to lung cancer, it has an LD50 of about 1:30000 and is not horribly addictive if at all. You know that the government would have parade the news through the streets long ago if they had any evidence to damage. Many world class athletes can perform at high level while under the influence of cannabis. It does not impair motor control like alcohol does. I don’t want a bunch of idiots driving around stoned but lets not act like those idiots can drive sober to begin… Read more »
jason wells
1 year 22 days ago
Nothing more on Shap’s part than pandering for the pot vote. I am 100 percent behind full legalization including growing your own to keep businesses out of it. However I would NEVER cast a vote for this guy. I would hope the tons of single issue pot voters remember remember that Shap was the one to stymie many legalization bills and will probably flip flop on this to. I have heard him called Shumlin lite but I fear he could be much worse. On a side note the MPP and Matt Simon are nothing more than corporate lackeys/lobbyists they only… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
1 year 22 days ago
Interesting comment, Jason. I like your approach. Allow Vertmonter’s to grow their own plants, decriminalize it and be done with it. No need for the government to get involved in this, UNLESS it all about the revenue, which in this case it is. This is nothing more then a ploy for the government to increase it’s coffers on the backs of lower and middle class Vermont citizens by incorporating HIGHLY regressive excise (sin) taxes on it. And who are the likes of Zuckerman for again? Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing, that is what these folks are. That’s exactly what… Read more »
jason wells
1 year 22 days ago
Randy, Revenue it is of course. Quite some years ago I was a paying member of MPP until almost overnight the entire organization shifted from a grass roots type org. that promoted small scale personal amount home growers and legalizing possession of personal amounts to their new “regulation” method with very high “licensing fees” taxes and such and penalties for those who wanted to have a couple plants in the yard or house. Most of the donations they now get are from those who have made it big out west and now own numerous shops in California, Colorado 100’s of… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
1 year 22 days ago

“While I applaud the success of these folk’s I certainly do not want to see Vermont become a temporary tourist mecca for pot smokers. I would still be ok with penalties for large scale dealing and the like but let folks do what they want on their own land and in their own homes.”

That is certainly a statement I can get behind.

Cheers!

1 year 22 days ago

Jason, for what it’s worth, I have been advocating for 8 years that people should be legally allowed to grow their own plants for personal consumption. (If you don’t believe me, ask the NH governor, who is very annoyed with me for railing against the “dispensary-only” model she “compassionately” forced on patients.) Feel free to contact me directly if you would like to discuss this further.

jason wells
1 year 22 days ago
Matt, While I appreciate your response here and will if I can find your email add. on the MPP site contact you with a few of my concerns I must note that none of my emails to MPP were responded to some years ago when MPP switched to the push for regulation and taxation. A few quick points though. According to current MPP model legislation the recommendation is to allow 5 plants to be grown. As I am sure you know this is way to small a number. Realistically this number would be fine for flowering plants but then add… Read more »
Jeff Laughlin
1 year 22 days ago

We’re lucky to have lobbyists like Matt Simon and MPP on our side. They’ve been very effective in other states and I for one appreciate their efforts here. It’s no coincidence that Shap Smith just came around on this issue. They’re not getting rich, they’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Please donate to the cause.

Jason Wells
1 year 22 days ago

Shap “came around” to get more votes plain and simple. Its also plain to see if you have been paying attention to his actions over the past few years.

The real travesty here though is that we even need a “pot lobbyist” to get anything done when the majority of Vermonters have been behind this for years. Hmph!!!

Ed Letourneau
1 year 22 days ago

What is wrong with these people. We have schools fighting abuse, and 10% state spending is going to drug abuse — but they want to make it legal.

Neil Johnson
1 year 22 days ago
The only adults in the room were he NH government officials. Another example of lobbyists running out state, we need to throw him out too Why Pot be dealt with reasonably, long prison sentence and total legalization don’t make sense, and if you play lesser of two evils, you get the response this person is looking for. Why can’t we treat it like driving 100mph? or 85 mph? I’d argue it’s safer to drive 85 mph on interstate than to drive high. Say it’s illegal, it’s not good for you. Call it a misdemeanor and give them a fine. Don’t… Read more »
Joel Bedard
1 year 21 days ago

Endocannabinoid system. Look it up.

Neil Johnson
1 year 20 days ago

Did I say there aren’t beneficial effects? Ever?

There are beneficial effects for morphine and heroine.

Studies have proven time and again it is very detrimental to young minds.

It is a drug, it clearly alters the physical state, that is the only reason it is being smoked vs. beech leaves.

Explain to me how through evolution we were adapting and evolved to benefit from inhaling any smoke?

What is wrong with treating it like a speeding ticket?

Joel Bedard
1 year 19 days ago
Endocannabinoid system Look. It. Up. There is zero evidence of any clinical toxicity to Cannabis, smoked, ingested, whatevered. The US CDC, responsible for mortality statistics, has ZERO record of deaths due to Cannabis in recorded history. What the hell is your problem? This vegetative substance is non-toxic, easy to produce and has umpteen therapeutic benefits. Not only that, but it has been found to cause apoptosis of cancerous cells, is a neuroprotectant, and has never, NEVER been linked with cancer in a negative manner. Again–what is your issue? Are you an employee of Pfizer? Are you an alcohol industry lobbyist?… Read more »
Neil Johnson
1 year 18 days ago
I looked it up. Zero deaths, that can not be true or accurate, statistically impossible. Hundreds of people die from coke machines. I’m not the one with an agenda, trying to be a voice of reason, common sense. Why wouldn’t you consider something in between? I’m not the problem. Have you dealt with young adults smoking too much? I’ve seen it, and you can “look it up”. Perhaps you are the one with issue. I’m not looking to tax it. I’m not looking to give people a hard time with, or put them in prison. I’m not under he elusion… Read more »
Sean Joyce
1 year 22 days ago

Certain strains of Cannabis Sativa can grow 20+ feet and have stalks the size of Popeye’s left forearm in a single growing season. The plant has more uses than any other single plant on earth in terms of fiber alone but then when you calculate the medicinal and nutritional value of the flower and seed, the government prohibition becomes sinister and the evils of this injustice are accepted out of ignorance by well intentioned citizens. The middle class and small farm needs this plant freed.

Rich Lachapelle
1 year 22 days ago
Shap’s flip-flopping on this issue and making up his mind based on polls and trial balloons makes Hillary Clinton look genuine by comparison. Like with most of his fellow Democrats in the Legislature, the only things that matter with legalization of weed is votes and more importantly, REVENUE with which to fund more social programs which then purchases even more votes. The factor which will show his true motivation for legalization will be in arguing for strict limits on growing your own, either by number of plants or by requiring an absurd level of security or just a prohibition on… Read more »
Wayne Andrews
1 year 22 days ago
Great comments as usual Rich, I agree. In addition I can just imagine the phone calls to the local health officer from a tenant in unit A of a four tenement dwelling that the smell is entering his rental unit from room B. Oh its medicinal the health officer will boast learning this from his online course provided by the Vt Dept of Health. The high school principals will not longer need to play watchdog during free senior time. Students can come to school smelling like pot and have to say nothing. Your local doctor will take a drag just… Read more »
Connie Godin
1 year 21 days ago

My 2 cents on legalizing – Hurry up I’m turning 65yo.

Michael Badamo
1 year 21 days ago
Sounds to me like the Vermont legalization effort is moving along just fine. We don’t need Mr. Simon and the MPP. Unless he wants to become a real Vermonter he ought to go back to Washington where we really need hard edged lobbyists. Regarding the black market, I don’t see a lot of difference between the black market and the hoards of greed merchants out to make a killing in the new legal markets. Ending the sleezy greed is simple: drop the price to reflect the actual agricultural costs of production. The price of weed is high due to government,… Read more »
Mark Keefe
1 year 21 days ago

I would like to suggest the next logic step for the state, if you agree with legalization, is just to allow people to grow their own (x number of plants). Do not make it legal to sell. Basically, the same rules that apply to minors currently (similar to alcohol) would remain in place. This would allow medical users to reduce cost, reduce the demand for financial gain within the criminal market, and not require; extensive oversight and/or regulation by the state. Simple, easy, and cost effective.

Sean Joyce
1 year 21 days ago

But how can they TAX that?

Joel Bedard
1 year 20 days ago

Per year cultivation permits–$50/mature plant seems more than reasonable–no list, no names or addresses, just a ‘must show on demand’ stipulation with penalties for failure to comply. Easy peasy…

Sean Joyce
1 year 20 days ago

I don’t see anything wrong with the state charging a tax but I think the push to legalize needs to show the amount of jobs that could potentially be created. I think fire concerns need to be addressed as well as mold and pesticide testing of product and both of those creates jobs are are untapped markets. Electricians, plumbers, trimmers, bud tenders, lighting manufacturing, nutrient manufacturing, etc.

Joel Bedard
1 year 19 days ago

Right on–that is exactly what’s what. Good repartee! I would love to see an economic study of the industry of the last 3 years in HID, hydro, nutrients, and associated technologies. I would not be surprised to see a $bil/annum number, in addition to the technological advancements from the demand.

1 year 21 days ago

Hi All, I’m blogging about the various dimensions of the cannabis discussions in VT on my website, Vermontijuana.com…I’d invite anyone interested in learning more about Matt Simon to check out an interview I did with him at the VTCC public forum in St. Johnsbury:

Steve Merrill
1 year 21 days ago
I always thought this was a “Free Country”? As a buddy of mine, then an officer w/CHP said about “drivers”, “The drunks drive too fast, the stoners too slow, and the rest are eating or applying makeup” and catching the “impaired” was like “shooting fish in a barrel”. Dave Zuck is right, if I want to sell my home-made jams at the local farm stand , Rosey KNOWS me and that my ingredients are legit and I processed it right, NOBODY ever gets sick eating MY food, should be similar w/cannabis and when I testified in 2003 & 2007 we… Read more »
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