Courts & Corrections

Marijuana legalization supporters join forces

Groups that support the legalization of marijuana joined forces Tuesday, saying that decades of prohibiting recreational use of the drug has failed.

“Marijuana regulation is about far more than being pro-marijuana,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said at a Statehouse news conference. “No matter how you slice it, marijuana prohibition has not been an effective policy for the state of Vermont.”

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, 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

The newly created Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana brings together advocates for criminal justice reform, civil rights protection, medical professionals and political groups to lobby for the legalization and regulation of marijuana in the upcoming legislative session. Simon said former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and the Vermont Progressive Party also support their efforts.

The Legislature decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2013. A bill to legalize and regulate recreational use of pot was introduced in 2014, but died. A bill calling for a study of the costs and benefits of legalization was approved. That study, being completed by the RAND Corp., is due to be released next week.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, said Tuesday that he plans to introduce a legalization bill within the first few weeks of the session, which begins Wednesday.

“This bill will be much more detailed, based on the Colorado experience,” Zuckerman said. He said it will likely contain language on the different ways of consuming marijuana, such as edible products.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he supports legalization in concept, but wants to see more data from the laws passed in Colorado and Washington state.

Opponents of legalizing pot will also be represented in the Statehouse this session. SAM-VT, the Vermont chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, is planning an educational outreach to legislators on what it sees as the dangers of legalization, particularly toward young people.

“We want lawmakers to take a thoughtful and science-based approach to this decision,” said Debby Haskins, executive director of SAM-VT. “We need to let them know that not everyone in Vermont is in favor of legalization.”

Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont, said the use of marijuana is a matter of personal freedom and should be divorced from criminal enforcement.

“Criminal law should not be used to protect individuals from the consequences of their own, autonomous choices,” he said.

Dr. Joseph McSherry, a neurophysiologist from Burlington, said that regulating marijuana would make it harder for underage people to obtain it and that the drug is safer than alcohol.

“Less alcohol, less violence … I think legalizing cannabis would have a very good public health profile,” McSherry said.

Despite the state’s sagging revenue forecasts and a $100 million budget deficit, speakers at the news conference spent little time talking about the potential tax revenue from marijuana sales. Colorado banked about $60 million in taxes, licenses and fees from the sale of medical and recreational pot in 2014.

“The goal here is to make the case that regulation is a much more sensible approach to marijuana policy than prohibition,” Simon said. “Prohibition has failed and it’s time for a new approach.”

Also attending the news conference were Suzi Wizowaty, executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform; Fran Janik, a Vermont medical marijuana patient; and Bonnie Scott of the Vermont Libertarian Party.

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  • Fred Woogmaster

    Given all that we have learned- and continue to learn – about marijuana, the only rational act is legalization, control, and taxation.

    The misguided Federal classification of marijuana was formed on myth – not fact.
    That must be corrected.

    • Tom Beer

      Fred is right. The EMPHASIS I would beg to notice should be on what we don’t know about this wonderful plant; what we can learn about it; what we can learn from it; and what we can learn about ourselves.
      Herb was put here for the healing of the nation, I believe, and more importantly: the healing of our own individual nation.
      Love and Peace!

  • jason Wells

    The State can’t even manage itself let alone regulating a pot taxation and control plan. Legalize it for those over 18 or 21, prohibit public use and sales and be done with it. That would keep all the pot shops from moving in and let folks in VT do what they want in their own homes in peace.

    Heck with the money they would save on enforcement they could put some more sand/salt on the roads and really save some lives.

  • paul lutz

    Perfect. Just what we need to focus on right now. We have a huge budget shortfall, property taxes through the roof ( I pay $500 a month now) wasted money on single payer pipe dreams, and now more pipe dreams.

    Our schools are falling behind the rest of the world, this should help nicely.

    • krister adams

      Tax $$ from pot sales could go to property tax relief and/or education.

      • Mike Kerin

        Krister, you hit the nail squarely on the head. Property tax relief is a big plus for middle class folks. We have been paying the lions share for educating our Vermont kids. It is about time some others help with the burden of paying for education. Many of us have paid for our own kids and grandchildren to be educated. Why should we pay for everyone else, too?

        Pot sales could lessen our burden!

    • Joel Bedard

      There is this thing called ‘multi-tasking’. Look it up. You might even learn how to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time.

      By the way–in an unregulated state, Cannabis is more available to minors than alcohol and tobacco. By legalizing and controlling, access to Cannabis by minors becomes far more difficult. In Colorado, more than 60% of the black market revenue stream has been diverted to the taxable, legitimate sector in the first year, with tax revenues going to building new schools and education programs.

      Or are you waiting for a property tax handout? Would that get your support?

    • sandra bettis

      Exactly what we need – money coming in, not going out!

  • Darryl Smith

    How much money did our legislature waste on a study by the rand corp? Google…everything you need to know for free.

  • Bill Olenick

    Legalize weed then you can take a trip and not leave the farm, thus reducing carbon footprints…

  • Mike Parent

    Colorado has had nearly no negative impact from legalization and quite a few positive effects
    Legalize it and allowable Police to focus on rimes that have actual victims.

    • Joyce Wilson

      Will Vermont have to allocate some of the taxes raised on legalized marijuana to more services for the homeless if it brings an influx of them into the state?

      “Legal marijuana drawing homeless to Colorado…Easterling is among a growing number of homeless people who have recently come to Colorado seeking its legal marijuana, and who now remain in the state and occupy beds in shelters, according to service providers.

      While no state agency records how many homeless people were drawn by legal weed, officials at homeless centers say the influx they are seeing is straining their ability to meet the needs of the increasing population.

      “The older ones are coming for medical (marijuana), the younger ones are coming just because it’s legal,” said Brett Van Sickle, director of Denver’s Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter, which has more than doubled its staff to accommodate the increase.

      The shelter did an informal survey of the roughly 500 new out-of-towners who stayed there between July and September and found as many as 30 percent had relocated for pot, he said….”

  • sandra bettis

    Legalize it, tax it, pay for single payer!

  • Fred Woogmaster

    I believe that “60 Minutes” is running a story on marijuana tonight.