Top Vermont doctors warn lawmakers more health data is needed before legalizing pot

A group of Vermont doctors criticized lawmakers this week for misinterpreting marijuana studies.

Dr. David Rettew, a UVM Medical School professor, said lawmakers are getting the wrong message from mischaracterizations of studies about marijuana.

“They are flawed, like all scientific studies, but they definitely should not be dismissed,” he said. Rettaw said flaws in a study can point to both underestimated and overestimated results.

Medical groups — including the Vermont Medical Society and the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics — oppose legalization, according to Justin Campfield, the founder of a public relations firm that represents the two organizations.

At a press conference on Thursday, the doctors said they believe marijuana policy as it stands is working. “We have this system where we’re not approving the drug, but we’ve taken away the harm from criminalizing.” said Dr. John Hughes, an addiction expert who has been studying marijuana, tobacco and alcohol use and abuse for much of his career. “I’m not sure what extra we’re gaining from legalization.”

Dr. Jill Rinehart, a Burlington-based pediatrician said lawmakers should wait for more information.

“Vermont doesn’t have to be an early adopter on marijuana legalization,” she said. “We are so close to getting more data on ER costs, health care visits, overdoses, social costs, traffic safety data, the rate of use disorders.”

There are “agendas” that need to be identified, said Dr. Jon Porter, a UVM Medical school professor. “I think we all understand that there is a draw economically that a new substance has,” he said. “It’s not obvious to me what a bunch of doctors have to gain by making this stuff up. Even if we’re ignorant of the effects or the level of use if legalization comes to pass, that’s an argument to wait for data.

Matt Simon, a representative for the pro-marijuana legalization group Marijuana Policy Project, said the doctors cherry-picked their arguments. “I think they’re not seeing the whole picture,” he said. “Marijuana is already widely available in the state. I think they’re just missing the fact that our policy is making millionaires out of criminals.”

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