Business & Economy

Lawmakers propose ban on alcohol to make pot point

Chris Pearson Jean O'Sullivan
Reps. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, and Jean O’Sullivan, D-Burlington, held a news conference Wednesday to urge the end of the prohibition on marijuana. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
Frustrated by stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, two Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would instead ban alcohol and treat it like marijuana.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, called it a symbolic step to “recognize recent scientific studies that demonstrate that alcohol use is significantly more dangerous than marijuana.”

Under the proposed law, possession of large quantities of alcohol, plus cultivation, distribution or sale of alcohol, would carry criminal penalties with up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Possession of small amounts of alcohol would carry a civil penalty and $500 fine, provided the person with the alcohol is at least 21 years old. Alcohol used as medicine would remain legal.

“This is not something either of us support,” Pearson said in a news conference with co-sponsor Rep. Jean O’Sullivan, D- Burlington. “We offer these ideas to stimulate a much-needed discussion to treat marijuana like alcohol.

“Whereas prohibiting the sale and possession of alcohol is a laughable suggestion, the common-sense reaction against the idea should be the same logic we use to consider the continued prohibition of marijuana,” he said.

Pearson said that even though marijuana is thought of as something you do in college, alcohol has more ties to campus rape, unprotected sex and intoxicated young people who can’t remember whether they consented to sex.

He referenced a study from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence saying alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes, including 37 percent of rapes.

Marijuana increases the likelihood of a fatal crash by 83 percent, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Using alcohol alone increases the likelihood by 575 percent, and using the two together increases the risk by 2,200 percent.

Nine percent of marijuana users become dependent, the New York Times reports, but more than 20 percent of alcohol users do.

“The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league [as alcohol],” Pearson said. “We need to bring [pot] out of the shadows. We need to be able to let families have an open discussion around the dinner table [about using pot].”

O’Sullivan, who sits on House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development co-sponsored the bill. O’Sullivan said there is no economic reason to postpone marijuana legalization.

“If you had 80,000 Vermonters using a product that, according to the Rand study, is over a $200 million annual part of an economy, why wouldn’t you want to look at marketing to that group?” O’Sullivan asked.

(The Rand study released for the Legislature in February estimated the black market for marijuana a $125 million to $225 million industry in Vermont.)

“Let the entrepreneurs really build a business around this,” O’Sullivan said. “There is a wealth of opportunity that we’re losing. Every single day, we lose our brand.”

Just before the news conference, Pearson got a high-five from Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden. The two introduced twin bills in the House and Senate this session to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Neither were taken up.

House Speaker Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morristown, has not ruled out legalizing marijuana, and a spokesperson said Wednesday that he is keeping his mind open to the idea. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he supports legalization but is in no hurry to do so.

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Erin Mansfield

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  • Nancy Fried

    To think we pay these folks for wasting our tax dollars for this kind of childish behavior is just plain mind boggling. Nothing more important to discuss????
    Kim Fried

    • Walter Carpenter

      “To think we pay these folks for wasting our tax dollars for this kind of childish behavior is just plain mind boggling.”

      Why was it so foolish? They are right. Alcohol does do more damage than pot. Tobacco is also legal and it kills hundreds of thousands of people a year.

    • Steven Farnham

      You’re right. They are being childish. They should have legalized industrial hemp and medicinal pot ages ago.

  • William Roberts, MD, PhD

    If we were to approach the decriminalization of cannabis as an exercise intending to reduce the adverse impacts of alcohol decriminalization we would accomplish actual good. Do this correctly and society will benefit. Do it like alcohol and we will have another alcohol sized problem.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Although I do not understand the full meaning of your comment, Dr.Roberts, I might agree.

      Would you please elaborate.

      Alcohol, without question, is the most destructive ‘substance’ in our society.

      • Glenn Thompson

        “Alcohol, without question, is the most destructive ‘substance’ in our society.”

        Worst than Heroin, Cocaine, Crack?

        • Walter Carpenter

          “Worst than Heroin, Cocaine, Crack?”

          I get and highly agree with your point here, Glenn, but historically and quantitatively (for lack of a better word right now) Reps O’Sullivan and Pearson are correct.

        • Fred Woogmaster

          In my life experience, without question, Mr.Thompson.

          The “legal”status of alcohol provides protection from scrutiny that illegal drugs do not have. The number of people afflicted by alcohol use and abuse is phenomenal but therefore unknown.

          Compared to alcohol, it is my belief that marijuana is a benign substance.

  • David R. Black

    Ban skiing because more people are killed skiing than with guns.

  • Carl Marcinkowski

    I think that the delay by the governor and some other pols is partly political and partly the money grab. They want to ‘get things right’. Ya, right. There is a LOT of money to be made by the state and private investors and entrepreneurs and those in power don’t want to miss out on any of it.

    • It will be interesting to see what happens to pot when big tobacco takes it over.

  • Finally a couple of politicians have the courage to be up front concerning the hypocrisy concerning alcohol vs. cannabis.

    • Rich Lachapelle

      If only we could get the Vermont Legislature and Governor to have the courage to confront their hypocrisy about how they treat nicotine addicts vs. opioid addicts. They treat tobacco users as the worse form of human trash and along with our Governor treat junkies as unwitting victims, lavished by a seemingly unlimited expenditure of public funds. No budget cuts even get suggested to our Habitat for Heroin programs.
      The Legislators do a lot of silly things to get themselves on the news or in the national spotlight but this stunt deserves credit for exposing the obvious disconnect our drug laws exhibit in terms of relating the harm caused by a substance relative to it’s legal acceptability. If we were to start from scratch, marijuana would be available in a convenience store and alcohol would be a Schedule 2 drug with strict regulations on it’s use and availability.

  • Bonita Brownsten

    If Vermont is so afraid of making us all into potheads by legalizing pot, then just legalize CBD varieties of pot for sale and for growing. It has no psychoactive properties and is a proven cancer destroyer and general health aid. Would be nice to see someone making the laws actually do some reading on this subject and pass the info around to the other policy makers. All I ever hear about is Vermont needs money, money, money….well here you go Vermont, a golden goose and no side effects.

  • Bonita Brownsten

    Here is a website that lawmakers in Vermont should read and discuss. Very helpful for decision making, for those who are ignorant about Cannabis:

  • Connie Godin

    Love it. The point needed to be made, again. Hope all lawmakers read the results of the 7D’s survey.

  • Patrick Zachary

    Get to work on making this state more affordable – stop wasting everyone’s time with “…not something either of us support!!

  • Peter Everett

    In my opinion, the legislators sponsoring this bill must be users of this, current, illegal substance and don’t want to be convicted if caught using it.
    I don’t consume any form of alcohol, don’t smoke or use any illegally control substances, therefore, I really don’t see any need for any of them in our daily lives other than a source of revenue for the state/feds.
    What those that use these substances do in there homes is of no concern to me. If legalized, and, if they are hindered in any way, mentally or physically, cause any negative harm to another person, physical or emotionally, if proven they are under the influence of a substance, the book should be thrown at them. No slap on the wrist. Heavy fines and some good old fashioned hard time. If legalized, it shouldn’t be a license for “legalized” poor behavior. Unfortunately, too often this isn’t the case.
    Montpelier, do as you please, but, don’t put others in jeopardy. Also, make it an impeachable offense, for legislators or administration, if caught using it on state time in state buildings, vehicles, etc. Some decisions coming from the statehouse make one wonder if all legislators are in the proper frame of mind, at allvtimes

  • Curtis Sinclair

    Pot smokers better be careful what they wish for. Legalization will cause more companies to drug test people. And check this story out from the Denver Post:

    Employers can still fire Colorado pot smokers for legal use

    So you smoke only off-duty? Not good enough. Consuming just at home provides no protection if your workplace drug test comes back positive for marijuana.

  • Neil Johnson

    Since when is inhaling smoke a good idea? Obviously these people have not experienced a family member dying of lung cancer or COPD. People suffer from second hand smoke, they don’t allow smoking in public place because the second hand smoke is so dangerous. And cigarettes don’t even get you high! I heard a person at Shaw’s cut their fingers off on a meat slicer, smoking pot on break, not paying attention. No it doesn’t make you anger but it does alter your state of mind……but let’s only argue two sides legal or in jail for the rest of your life, that way legalization will seem so much more tolerable. It shouldn’t’ t be legal, nor should driving 90 mph for most people on the interstate. You get fines and criminal sentencing for this. Why is it so hard for people to understand that smoking really isn’t good for anyone buy……, fill in that blank and you’ll know who’s to blame for this big push.

  • John Dupee

    Vermont has, with the aide of our Governor, achieved national notoriety for our opiate problem. Millions are spent to combat it.

    But wait, here’s an experiment sponsored by some legislators. Let’s make one more mind altering substance available. Let’s see how that works out.