Commentary

Chloé White: A commonsense approach to drug reform

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chloé White, who is the policy director at the ACLU of Vermont.

The Vermont Legislature recently took an important step towards badly needed drug reform in Vermont. S.22 permits adults over 21 to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana and creates a marijuana regulatory commission to review a potential framework for taxation and regulation. The bill’s fate now rests with Gov. Phil Scott.

Vermonters heavily favor marijuana legalization: Recent polls show that a majority of Vermonters support legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol. They recognize that ending marijuana prohibition will help reduce criminal justice system costs, prevent collateral consequences of drug-related criminal records, mitigate the pronounced racial disparities in our criminal justice system, save taxpayer money, and better protect Vermonters’ health and rights.

Criminalizing marijuana possession has not worked. Though Vermont partially decriminalized in 2013, over 4,000 Vermonters have paid about $1 million in fines for possessing under an ounce of marijuana. People are still targeted by police, their bodies and their property searched based solely on suspicion of possessing marijuana. Arrest and prison are still possible for possessing more than one ounce or for cultivating.

Marijuana criminalization also disproportionately targets people of color. Before decriminalization, African-Americans in Vermont were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, though both groups use at the same rate. Vermont still has one of the nation’s highest racial disparities for drug possession arrests, with extreme racial disparities in its criminal justice system overall.

“Before decriminalization, African-Americans in Vermont were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, though both groups use at the same rate.”
 

Although legalization opponents have raised concerns about negative impacts on road safety and public health, the facts don’t match their hyperbolic rhetoric. There is no evidence that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” States that have legalized have not seen an uptick in traffic fatalities or other public health problems. In fact, recent studies show youth use rates have not increased and — critically for Vermont — that opiate use and fatalities are down where marijuana is legal.

After Vermont decriminalized marijuana in 2013, the same folks now opposing legalization insisted that use, sales and crime would increase — that did not happen. To the contrary, more people were kept out of jail and given the opportunity to access employment and housing without a negative mark on their record. The fact is, the public health and safety benefits of marijuana legalization are substantial, while many commonly repeated concerns are simply not borne out by the evidence.

Gov. Scott has said that Vermont should go slow, or wait until a marijuana-specific “drugged driving” test is invented. But here’s the good news: Vermont already has a tried and true roadside test for driving under the influence — the standard field sobriety test (stand on one foot, walk a line, etc.). Studies have proven the test’s accuracy and effectiveness. It has been used by Vermont officers for decades, and a growing number of officers now have intoxication recognition training and expertise.

Furthermore, the creation of a marijuana regulatory commission allows for precisely what Gov. Scott says he wants: a careful, considered and responsible approach to taxation and regulation. (For more information, the Legislature’s FAQ on S. 22 is available online.)

As the Trump administration doubles-down on failed War on Drugs policies, despite a bipartisan consensus favoring a public health-centered approach, S.22’s commonsense reforms are desperately needed. Gov. Scott has a valuable opportunity before him. For Vermonters who support ending the failed War on Drugs and want to see Vermont adopt a 21st century drug policy, now is the time to speak out.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Commentary

About Commentaries

VTDigger.org publishes 12 to 18 commentaries a week from a broad range of community sources. All commentaries must include the author’s first and last name, town of residence and a brief biography, including affiliations with political parties, lobbying or special interest groups. We have a minimum length of 400 words. We have found the ideal length is approximately 600 to 800 words. We provide some copyediting support, but we do not have the staff to fact-check commentaries. We reserve the right to reject opinions for matters of taste and accuracy. Commentaries are voices from the community and do not represent VTDigger in any way. Please send your commentary to Cate Chant, cchant@vtdigger.org, and Anne Galloway, agalloway@vtdigger.org.

Email: opinion@vtdigger.org

Latest Commentaries

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Chloé White: A commonsense approach to drug reform"
  • John farrell

    You are absolutely right Chloe. Gov Scott has an opportunity to take Vermont forward
    by signing this bill no more wishy washy hand wringing. Time for progressive action.

    • Julia Purdy

      There is nothing “progressive” about legalizing a powerful drug. For centuries drugs have been used to keep the populace in their place – having fun maybe, but helpless and hopeless. George Orwell’s father was in charge of the highly lucrative opium industry in India during British rule. Most decent people would deplore that industry – and China did something about it – so why do we think it’s so grand for Americans???

      • David Bell

        Are you talking about alcohol?

        This is about cannabis, a substance less addictive and less damaging than alcohol.

      • JT Bedard

        Julia–Cannabis is non-lethal and clinically non-toxic.

  • Catherine Antley

    William Jones: “That marijuana legalization is promoted as a victory for racial justice is ironic at best. Just look at marijuana’s counterparts, the alcohol and tobacco industries. It is an unjustified reality in Black communities that a child cannot take a walk without passing a liquor store on every corner. And they cannot even see inside other convenience stores because of the cigarette and alcohol advertisements plastered on the windows. Liquor stores in poorer, non-White neighborhoods far outnumber those in richer, White counterparts.

    Pot is no different. Already the marijuana industry—comprised almost entirely of White men—is copying the successful playbook of the alcohol industry. In Denver, the epicenter of legalized weed, lower-income, Brown and Black neighborhoods are already experiencing this. In one minority neighborhood, there is one pot business for every 47 residents.

    The increased availability of marijuana in these neighborhoods matters, because while some will argue that marijuana isn’t harmful, the science says otherwise. Marijuana users are three times more likely to become addicted to heroin than non-users, and frequent pot use by kids is correlated with higher possibilities of welfare dependency and permanent IQ loss.

    Contrary to the argument that marijuana legalization will promote criminal justice, we’ve seen that legalization has not produced reductions in incarceration. After years of decline, incarceration rates in Colorado have risen sharply and are projected to continue to rise following legalization with no discernible change in prison demographics. While the actual number of arrests for marijuana are down, the racial disparity in arrests for pot have stayed the same or increased slightly in legalized states.

    And in the two years after Colorado legalized marijuana, the number of Hispanic and Black kids arrested for marijuana-related offenses rose 29 and 58 percent, respectively. In the same period, the number of White kids being arrested for identical crimes dropped eight percent. All of this is especially alarming given that adolescents who smoke marijuana once a week are almost six times more likely than nonsmokers to drop out of school and over three times less likely to enter college.

    Where is the social justice in that? And more tellingly, where are the protests by (mostly White) legalization activists now? Their silence is deafening. Now that they’ve pocketed their cash, they seem undisturbed by what happens in non-White communities.

    Ultimately, legalization only exacerbates social justice issues by prompting well-meaning citizens to think that they have “done something” for civil rights by voting for pot, instead of actually engaging in the hard work that promotes institutional change. (Remember why Eric Garner was killed? It was over cigarettes – a legal drug.)

    To continue to legalize and commercialize marijuana is to continue to allow an addictive industry to profit off minorities and the marginalized. It’s time for us to wake up and realize that legalizing marijuana only reinforces the pillars of racial inequality in America.” by William Jones http://www.afro.com/legalizing-weed-not-answer/

  • Julia Purdy

    The ACLU’s arguments in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana are getting stale. The inconvenience and expense caused to those people who must get their marijuana high and protect their source are not good reasons to legalize, let alone commercialize, a powerful drug that has many unintended negative consequences for the public at large.
    To say “prohibition hasn’t worked” is a misstatement. It works in the states that prohibit the drug. Those states show half the rate of use of Vermont and Colorado, which top the list of heavy-use states.
    And anyway that argument doesn’t even make sense. A civil society imposes lots of prohibitions. Texting while driving is one example. Do people do it anyway? Sure. Is that a reason to remove the ban? No! Vermont reportedly has one of the highest rates of distracted driving in the nation. One fatal car crash costs about $1,000,000.
    As for abridging anyone’s “civil rights,” that argument is completely bogus. The right to get stoned is not a civil right! Why? Because – unlike race, age, national origin, religion, skin color, gender, and disability – you can choose, unless you are an addict, but so far the condition of being addicted has not become a protected class under law.
    We are losing sight of the gist of the argument.
    Possession of an ounce of marijuana has been decriminalized in Vermont already. We have medical marijuana, which may be getting diverted to recreational uses. Enough is enough!
    As for the “majority of Vermonters” as shown in “recent polls,” I can tell you that the “recent poll” was done for VPR, which was identified openly as the sponsor of the poll, so naturally the response rate would be tilted toward the liberal side, who are devoted followers of VPR and identify with it. Many, many people contacted refused to do the poll, no doubt in part because they perceive VPR as liberal. So there is a large margin of error there. But computer calculations give us a “majority of Vermonters.”
    There are any number of interest groups who do not want marijuana to become widespread in Vermont, no matter how much tax revenue is “lost.” If I owned a business I would not want the burden of my workers coming to work stoned. Teachers would not want their students’ learning to be impaired because they smoke dope outside of school, as teacher surveys in Colorado have shown. The average person does not want to be around stoned people everywhere they go. The police and medical professionals don’t want the burden of enforcement – which will NOT go away just because the stuff is legal, because it won’t be 100% legal with no restrictions. And the black market will NOT go away because it will offer a cheap – and unregulated – alternative to “approved” sources of supply. In fact, it will be encouraged.

    • David Bell

      Here’s a fun game, replace cannabis with alcohol, a much more powerful drug which causes far more harm and see what you think of the comment above.

      • Jason Brisson

        Right? people coming to work drunk, kids getting drunk at school, no one like to be around drunks…how do we deal with these now, what changes?

        The arguments in favor of legalizing alcohol are getting stale. The inconvenience and expense caused to those people who must get their alcohol and protect their source are not good reasons to legalize, let alone commercialize, a powerful drug that has many unintended negative consequences for the public at large.

        There are any number of interest groups who do not want alcohol to become widespread in Vermont, no matter how much tax revenue is “lost.” If I owned a business I would not want the burden of my workers coming to work drunk. Teachers would not want their students’ learning to be impaired because they drink outside of school, as teacher surveys in Colorado have shown. The average person does not want to be around drunk people everywhere they go. The police and medical professionals don’t want the burden of enforcement – which will NOT go away just because the stuff is legal, because it won’t be 100% legal with no restrictions. And the black market will NOT go away because it will offer a cheap – and unregulated – alternative to “approved” sources of supply. In fact, it will be encouraged.

    • John Klar

      Vermont has one of the highest rates of use in the nation, yet Julia Purdy says prohibition works in the states that prohibit the drug. Apparently marijuana prohibition in Vermont has “worked” as dismally as for alcohol and heroin. Incarcerating people for self-harm is idiotic, and is inflicted by prejudiced people who themselves perhaps ought to be imprisoned — prohibition is an attack on others’ freedoms, and that’s much worse than merely harming oneself (in a country where people freely harm themselves with alcohol and cigarettes daily). The insanity must stop!

    • Brian Kelly

      Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

      Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

      The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

      If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more detriment to our society than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

      Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more detriment to our society than all other drugs, COMBINED?

      Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier lives, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

      There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize marijuana nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

      The prohibitionist view on marijuana is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

      Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

      Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of marijuana prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

      With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a marijuana prohibitionist to do?

      Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

      Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Marijuana Legalization Efforts!

      “Marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

      http://rt.com/usa/234903-marijuana-safer-alcohol-deadly/

      “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

      “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

      Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

      Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/23/marijuana-may-be-even-safer-than-previously-thought-researchers-say/

      “The report discovered that marijuana is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, marijuana had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—marijuana is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”

      http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2015/02/scientific-reports-weed-114-safer-alcohol

  • Brian Kelly

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!