Panels air marijuana legalization issues

Editor’s note: This article is by Elizabeth Hewitt, a freelance writer from Warren.

A marijuana plant at a Colorado grow operation. Photo by Brent Levin/Creative Commons

A marijuana plant at a Colorado grow operation. Photo by Brent Levin/Creative Commons

BURLINGTON — With marijuana legalization likely to turn up as an issue at the Statehouse in 2015, a broad spectrum of lawmakers called for a nonpartisan approach to the issue at a panel discussion on Thursday.

The event was organized by the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana and moderated by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Addressing a crowd of about 50, ranging from skateboard-toting students to sport coat-wearing professionals, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, and Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, D-Essex, voiced their views on the path to marijuana legalization and regulation in Vermont in the first of two panel discussions hosted by UVM’s Young Americans for Liberty.

“The party labels don’t really matter if you look at the facts on the ground, and if you can simply dissect the material in front of us with respect to whether the policy has worked or not, and whether or not a different policy would work better,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman and Benning called for lawmakers to approach the issue of marijuana legalization as a matter of common sense, with Benning citing the Vermont Republican Party’s 2014 platform.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

“We have jettisoned the social issues so that we don’t treat things like this as a party issue anymore,” he said. “In my eyes, (prohibition) is, and always has been, stupid.”

Thursday’s panel took place on the same day Vermont’s anti-legalization group, previously known as SMART, announced that it had aligned itself with the national organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Groups on both sides of the issue are gearing up for heated debate in the next legislative session, with the results of a state-commissioned study on pot legalization by the RAND Corp. due to be released in January. It won’t be the first time the issue has been aired; the legislature passed a measure decriminalizing pot in 2013, and last year Zuckerman introduced a bill dealing with legalization and regulation.

Support for reforming Vermont’s marijuana laws seems to be on the rise, with 57 percent of Vermonters in support of legalizing and taxing pot according to a survey by the Castleton Polling Institute in May.

“We take great pride in Vermont being the first in a lot of things,” Benning said. “This is one time when Vermont doesn’t need to be first. We have a couple of states that are presenting us with an example on how to proceed, and it gives us the ability to do it right and better.”

Waite-Simpson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, spoke about how marijuana-related incarcerations shaped her opinions on the issue.

“We have this whole industry that’s grown up around locking people up for drug infractions,” she said.

When the panelists were asked what would happen to people incarcerated on pot charges in the case of legalization, Waite-Simpson drew applause by saying, “Let them out, and expunge the record.”

The matter of incarceration was a theme in the second discussion as well, with several panelists voicing concerns. Outgoing Rep. Suzy Wizowaty, D-Chittenden, who is the executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, said that education is more effective than criminalization in countering drug use.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what it has done to families, to friends, to close relationships, to towns,” said Paul Volk, the former president of the Vermont Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Marijuana prohibition, he argued, “encourages nonaccountability, it encourages folks to roll over and turn on people in an effort to avoid individual accountability.”

Panelists deferred on questions about specific policies like the number of dispensaries that would serve the state, and regulations on home cultivation, noting that those details would be addressed down the line.

Waite-Simpson conceded that, in addition to ingrained anti-legalization attitudes among law enforcement and educators, significant practical barriers remain to reforming Vermont’s pot laws — such as accurate ways of testing THC levels and regulating behind-the-wheel usage.

“I don’t care if it’s Robitussin or marijuana or an opiate or a martini, I just don’t want people behind the wheel of a car when they’re using these substances,” Waite-Simpson said.

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  • Mary Daly

    The discussion around legalizing this drug is being done for the wrong reasons. Taxing marijuana so the State can spend more money is the worst. What if this idea comes back to bite us by costing more money than it brings in. We have a Heroin crisis in the State now, let’s not add another drug problem to the list. Oh, and what would happen to our food industry if all the precious agricultural land was turned into growing Pot? Would growers have to get an Act 250 permit? I would hope so. This is so not a good idea.

  • portugal decriminalized all drugs over 10 years ago-they treat addiction as a health issue, crime rate has dropped–we need to evolve

  • Francis Janik

    We have been lied to by our government for over 75 years. The Cannabis Plant is far less dangerous to our physical health than alcohol, tobacco, prescription narcotics and sugar. You can not overdose on cannabis. Cannabis can be used without smoking. Every human has Endocannabinoid receptors. We need to end this persecution of individual who choose to
    relax by using the oils from this plant.

  • Jeff Deutsch

    Like the majority of Americans, I strongly support the immediate, complete legalization of Marijuana.

    But as a Scientist with a strong interest in Cancer research, I feel even more strongly about the need for its immediate legalization of it for Medical use, and the need to ensure that no Cancer patient is denied it than I’ve ever felt about any issue, because I’m so impressed with its benefits for Cancer patients.

    Dying of Cancer sucks, ask, anyone doing it.

    Cancer patients can’t wait.

    I urge everyone reading this to PLEASE call and email the Attorney General, the press, Congress and the President today.
    Its amazing what a few well written editorials and interviews on news programs can do.

    Medical Marijuana not only helps with Cancer therapy, seizures, PTSD and chronic pain, but has helped countless Americans, including countless veterans stop using Alcohol, and hard drugs, both legal and illegal ones.

    Every minute an American dies of Cancer.
    Every 19 minutes an American dies of a prescription drug overdose.
    Many vets become addicted to prescription opiates and die from them.

    NOBODY has ever died from smoking too much pot.
    Lots of people’s stage 4 Cancer has been cured by high dose Medical Marijuana oil, and every Cancer patient that uses Marijuana to ease their suffering benefits greatly from doing so.

    It is immoral to leave Marijuana illegal, for anyone, for even a second longer.
    But for Cancer patients, its a matter of life and death.
    Cancer patients can’t wait

    Medical Marijuana has an unmatched safety profile, and for people who suffer from so many diseases of so many kinds its truly a gift from GOD.

    For everyone else, its a far safe alternative to Alcohol, and infinitely safer than Cigarettes.

    Either take them off the market too, or legalize Marijuana right now.

    2016 is too far away, between now and then roughly 1 MILLION Americans will die of Cancer.

    And its a horrible way to die.

    • ray giroux

      Bravo Mr. Deutsch! If for no other reason, to use this healing plant for the treatment of disease is reason enough to make it legal.

      I watched a documentary about a child with cancer and the parents struggle to cure that child. The modern chemical treatments were doing more harm than good. The parents turned to cannabis oil, nearly reversing the cancer. The Police stepped in and they were stopped from using this treatment. The cancer grew back. Eventually, on modern chems, the child died.

      I have read many more stories about cannabis oil and it’s healing effects.

      This is where Vermont could be a real Leader.

    • Francis Janik

      AMEN SIR!

  • Peter Everett

    Anticipated revenue will be the only factor involved. Spend, spend, spend.

  • David R. Black

    If Vermont is advocating that smoking cigarettes is a health issue and recently banned in Burlington Church Street, then why bring up pot smoking? Smoking is smoking.
    Cough, cough.

  • Wayne Andrews

    What next, Otis from Mayberry being in charge of writing the new rules of prohibition?

  • The newly forming Vermont Marijuana Party will go all the way and work to make marijuana legal under state and federal laws. We have several online locations, due to bizarre internet communication interruptions including Facebook intermittently locking some members out, and then demanding they identify their friends by baby pictures in order to log back in.
    You can try reaching us at:
    http://tinyurl.com/vmp2016
    http://www.usmjparty.org
    http://indyvt.com

    Please note: that a year or more after
    our domain indyvt was purchased by us, someone else purchased the domain vtindy.com, so please be aware that they are not the Vermont Marijuana Party.

    Some of our members work in the Colorado marijuana industry as tour guides, which is the safest way for tourists to enjoy marijuana – let a responsible professional guide do all the driving and decision making during your marijuana tour.

    Some of our members are Vermont Medical Marijuana Patients who are very concerned that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

    So, if you are interested in going all the way and making marijuana legal in Vermont and also under Federal laws, please join us.

    We are going to form a new minor political party, the Vermont Marijuana Party, during 2015 so that we will qualify for the statewide and federal ballot in 2016.
    We will run a candidate for President of the United States in 2016, and that candidate might be a USA born citizen from another state. All other candidates and Vermont Marijuana Party members must have an 802 telephone area code.

  • Carry Ashar

    My Story .
    As a natural born skeptic, I spent countless time and energy researching all the available treatment options aside from what my oncologist recommended. I was DETERMINED to cure my cancer, and knew there was something out there after witnessing a number of people who not only survived, but thrived and went on to live fulfilling lives cancer-free. In addition to reading about Rick Simpson Oil, and watching the Run From the Cure video, I also spoke with people who had actually used the oil, and it was shocking to hear one after another how effective this medicine really was. I just couldn’t believe there was a cure out there and how wrong it was that this information is not being shared with the public!

    Treatment Regimine:
    I have a pretty big tolerance for marijuana, so I started off with a full grain of rice sized amount of oil instead of a half grain. I gradually increased the dosage every night until I reached a full gram each night. The standard protocol for Rick Simpson Oil is ingesting a total of 60 grams over the course of 2-3 months, but I had 70 grams in total for safe measure. I used the excess as a topical skin care treatment, attacking the visible brown spots on my face and neck.

    3 months later, my cancer was in full remission. Within 4 months, I am cancer-free and officially received a clean bill of health from my doctors. What they don’t know is that the majority of my treatment was using the Rick Simpson Oil. I did use some of the medication they prescribed, but it was in combination with the oil.

    I am elated I want to continue sharing with people who are experiencing what I went through that there is absolutely hope and a cure out there. They just need to be proactive and aggressive with treatment, don’t wait until it is too late. Get your medication via Email:[email protected]

    In addition to being an effective cancer fighter, there are some nice side effects that come from using the Rick Simpson oil, for instance, I no longer need to take any pain killers. Just one or two drops of the oil will ease the pain and help you sleep like a baby. Best of all, its natural . . . Thanks to all the staff at Amsterdam’s Garden who guided me throughout this journey. You guys are awesome!

    Carry Ashar.

    • Pete Robbins

      Thats awesome Carry ! I loved hearing your success, keep it up! Cannabis has saved me in more ways than one .. 1Love 🙂

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