Joe Benning: Marijuana legalization – it’s time

Editor's note: This commentary is by state Sen. Joe Benning, a Republican who represents the Caledonia-Orange District in the Vermont Senate.

[A]s a state senator I’m used to getting missives from countless Vermonters who wish to weigh in on various subjects. But rarely do I get one, from someone not even old enough to vote, that is well researched and articulated on a controversial subject.

Yet that is precisely what landed in my mailbox recently. A middle school student at Camels Hump Middle School sent me a wonderful letter arguing for the legalization of marijuana. In a remarkable coincidence, she had reached some of the very same conclusions several of us in the Senate’s Government Operations Committee had reached this past legislative session.

We know legalization is coming because that is the obvious progression of the issue. Since overcoming our previous fear and paranoia, we’ve learned medicinal marijuana has value. It eases pain for those in pain. Producing and regulating this medication has led to the creation of real, good-paying jobs. Our committee recently toured a medical marijuana dispensary and growing facility. I was astounded to find an extremely clean, totally secure, almost invisible facility so close to our Statehouse. It is run by professionals who know the science of how to produce a safe product and how to conduct their business within the parameters of the law. They created a business that helps many Vermonters and the sky has not collapsed.

We’ve also learned recreational marijuana is a widely popular consumer product. Although pretty obvious for decades, this was officially confirmed by The Rand Report, an exhaustive study recently completed at the request of your government. Vermonters are spending upwards of $225 million annually on marijuana consumption in an underground economy. Treating this consumption as a legitimate, properly regulated industry can only lead to more real, good-paying jobs.

Vermonters are spending upwards of $225 million annually on marijuana consumption in an underground economy. Treating this consumption as a legitimate, properly regulated industry can only lead to more real, good-paying jobs.


It will also insure a safer product. As my middle school friend points out: “when people buy marijuana off the street illegally, there isn’t any way to tell if what you have is laced with some other drug or injected with some sort of chemical.” This is now a problem in Vermont with underground production. That problem can be eliminated if consumers can purchase from a properly regulated retailer, who in turn purchases stock from a properly regulated producer. We do this now with medical marijuana and alcohol.

My middle school friend also believes the product should not be sold to those under 21, that the product should be properly labeled so consumers are informed and protected, and that everyone in the chain from cultivation to packaging and sale should be licensed and monitored by the state. She prefers local growers selling it in local stores. Our committee reached the same conclusions, recognizing the need to legalize in a “Vermont way.”

My young friend prophetically concluded her letter by suggesting legalization would promote “Vermont’s economy and safety.” Viewing this argument through the eyes of a middle school student, it is easy to discard political ideology and dismiss the fears that have paralyzed my generation with a pointless war called “prohibition.” I wrote her back to tell her I agreed. It’s time for Vermont to begin the process of having a mature conversation about marijuana legalization.

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