Peter Shumlin: Time to take a smarter approach on marijuana - VTDigger

Peter Shumlin: Time to take a smarter approach on marijuana

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election.

Last month, the Vermont Senate passed a bill to end the failed War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition in Vermont. This was a big step forward for our state. Bringing marijuana out of the shadows of prohibition is a smarter approach to regulating a substance that over 80,000 Vermonters admit to using on a monthly basis. It makes no sense that we tell those Vermonters that possessing an ounce of marijuana is no more serious than speeding, but then we tell them they must go buy it from a drug dealer who could care less what else they sell or how young their customers are.

Many Vermonters get this. According to a recent poll from Vermont Public Radio, nearly 55 percent of Vermonters favor legalization, while only 32 percent oppose it. Even many of those who oppose the current legislation recognize that as other states act, Vermont will eventually move forward with legalization. The question has now become not if Vermont should legalize marijuana but when.

On that question it’s time for Vermont to act, and not just because the right policy is to fix the broken system we have now. In the coming years, Vermont could very well end up surrounded by legal marijuana markets as states to our south and east, as well as a country to our north, all move towards legalization. This fall, Massachusetts voters will go to the polls to vote on a referendum to legalize marijuana. A poll of Massachusetts voters indicates that a majority support legalization. Colorado, Washington State, Washington D.C., Oregon and Alaska have all voted to legalize marijuana in similar votes. New Hampshire legislators have been seriously debating legalization legislation, which even passed the House in that state. Canada’s recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana in that country. Maine and Rhode Island are also considering referendums to legalize marijuana in the coming years.

Even many of those who oppose the current legislation recognize that as other states act, Vermont will eventually move forward with legalization. The question has now become not if Vermont should legalize marijuana but when.


Vermont has a clear choice. As states nationwide and those close to home continue working to enact smarter policies around marijuana, we can be the first state to do it right. We can lift the veil of prohibition that has prevented us from taking rational steps to address all the issues that come with marijuana use that exist right now, given that one in eight Vermonters uses the substance on a monthly basis. Or we can choose to delay making the right policy choice, continuing to bury our heads in the sand and hope that a policy that has failed for decades will all of the sudden start working.

The stakes are important. The bill passed by the Vermont Senate would represent the most careful, deliberate attempt to regulate marijuana in America. Before passing the bill, the Senate took testimony from experts, asked the right questions, and learned lessons from those states that have legalized marijuana already. The result is a bill to create a system which would represent a huge improvement over the status quo. It would ban the sale of edibles which have caused so many problems in Colorado. It would also allow us to drive out the black market and the illegal drug dealers that come with it, do a better job than we currently do of keeping marijuana out of the hands of underage kids, deal with the drugged drivers who are already driving on our roads, address treatment, and educate Vermonters to the harmful effects of consuming marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes.

That approach is in stark contrast to the one proposed in the Massachusetts referendum that will be voted on in November, which would allow edibles that have caused huge problems in other states, smoking lounges, home delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana. Vermont’s bill allows none of that. If Massachusetts moves forward with their legalization bill while Vermont delays, the entire southern part of our state could end up with all the negatives of a bad pot bill and none of the positives of doing the right thing.

The choice in front of Vermonters and their elected representatives in the next couple of months is whether we want our state to take a rational step to end an antiquated War on Drugs policy that almost everyone agrees has failed. We can take a smarter approach in Vermont and be prepared for whatever other states around us do. But we must have the courage to do it.

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12 Comments on "Peter Shumlin: Time to take a smarter approach on marijuana"


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Eric A Rutz
10 months 1 day ago
I had two typos in there. Sorry. If this passes here’s a better version. Thank you. How come we’ve only heard about ending the “War on Drugs” recently? Where was the drive to legalize one or two years ago, or heck six months ago? Did I miss it? I try to pay attention but I must’ve smoked too much black market weed. But Gov. Shumlin, to your point, Vermont needs to do much more than legalize marijuana. It needs to lead the country NOW as the first comprehensive “Tax and Treat” state. It could be your platform to higher office… Read more »
Annette Smith
10 months 1 day ago

We haven’t been smart about renewable energy. We haven’t been smart about health care. Why would anyone buy what Governor Shumlin is selling? He is not listening to Vermonters. He is dictating to us. How about having the courage to take responsibility for your policies that are causing harm to people? Get out and meet with the public who you have turned your backs on and talk to them in person? What are you afraid of?

Irene Stewart
10 months 1 hour ago
I find it terribly sad and frustrating that Shumlin, during these first, almost 3 months, has only cared about legalizing marijuana, divesting the pension funds from coal and oil, and obtaining a Waiver from Medicare for his All Payer Plan. Which of these 3 issues has helped one Vermonter? Will any of these help any Vermonter when the fiscal year begins July 1st, 2016? How many manufacturing jobs are being created, right now in Vermont? Has he devoted any time and effort to this, as he has for legalizing pot, and trying to tell the state treasurer he knows better… Read more »
10 months 1 day ago
What is not mentioned in this article is that Colorado and Washington rates of use and problems associated with marijuana have skyrocketed. Commercialization of a psychoactive drug is not the solution. Colorado now own the dubious distinction of having the highest marijuana use rates in the entire nation of every age category including youth 12-17 years of age. I work on the front lines every day with youth. Legal implies safe and students will have greater access to marijuana when legal because as Colorado and Washington state have already demonstrated, legalization does not eliminate a black market-both are thriving! Look… Read more »
michael olcott
10 months 6 hours ago
” rates of use and problems associated with marijuana have skyrocketed. ” well when the criminal and civil penalties for admitting use go away then of course there is going to be an increase in the number of people admitting the usage that has been concealed all along. The problems you speak of have come mostly from the mislabeling of edibles and while first time users who consumed too much were in discomfort for several hours not one of them has suffered anything more than that for the experience. Legal does NOT imply safe as there are MANY things that… Read more »
Dave Silberman
9 months 30 days ago
I’m afraid you’ve got some of your information wrong. I wholeheartedly agree that it’s important to keep drugs out of kids’ hands, but let’s get the facts straight: S.241’s current draft contains very tight restrictions on advertising, and it is absolutely legal to restrict the time, place, and manner of commercial speech under the 1st Amendment, even with respect to legalized marijuana. Colorado’s youth usage rates have not changed at all since legalization there, and the only reason they are #1 now is that the former #1, Rhode Island, went down to #3. You can’t blame legalization for an increase… Read more »
Kathy Callaghan
10 months 1 day ago

Time to take a smarter approach on the election of a Governor. This Governor’s “smart approaches” haven’t been all that smart, as it turns out.

Rick Veitch
10 months 1 day ago
“Before passing the bill, the Senate took testimony from experts, asked the right questions, and learned lessons from those states that have legalized marijuana already.” Unfortunately, all that expert testimony was ignored when Governor Shumlin, Senator Sears and the Vermont State Police hijacked S.241in Judiciary. The original S.241 allowed any Vermonter to grow their own supply of marijuana. More critically, it envisioned a local, sustainable, renewable economy for marijuana cultivation that was open to any Vermonter. The bill was completely rewritten into a boondoggle by Senator Sears that creates a State Regulated Monopoly designed to benefit a few lucky license… Read more »
Connie Godin
10 months 20 hours ago

I agree with Gov. I’d also like to add that I agree with not allowing edibles at this time. A lot of unknown there. Not a lot of unknown about the rest. Prohibition of course hasn’t worked.

David Matthews
10 months 4 hours ago

Get back to me when you and the Legislature have put a well defined plan down on paper to keep the addictive product out of the hands of the apparently 25% of high school kids, who claim it’s a piece of cake to get what they want when they want it. For openers, perhaps add 100 days of drug-related community service over a period of one-year to parents or older peers who hand them some of the legal stuff?

Joshua Abell
9 months 30 days ago
Why doesn’t Vermont permit voter initiatives? The whole reason this bill has become so bogged down with restrictions is that it has to pass through a gauntlet of legislators, many of which want to find some way or another to drag it down. Some of whom will probably just vote against it, anyhow. Given the reality of the situation, I support this. Putting an end to this failed senseless prohibition is really important.. but if it were possible to put on the ballot for the people of Vermont to decide, we could have kept it simple and honest.
Randy Jorgensen
9 months 30 days ago

Simple, it would remove power from those in the Dome. Power they refuse to give back to the people.

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