Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

Marijuana in Vermont By Joseph Humes

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Senator David Zuckerman sits comfortably in the lavish Vermont State House cafeteria. He warmly greets everyone he sees, and doesn’t take two bites from his lunch without stopping to talk with colleagues. Zuckerman seems weary, having spent the morning working at his Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg, but energetically approaches his office and the legislative responsibilities that come with it. After taking office in the Vermont Senate in 2012, Sen. Zuckerman commits himself to making real improvements and offering true legislative results to the people of his state.

For much of his tenure in the Senate, Zuckerman saw potential in legalizing marijuana throughout Vermont. He has supported most Vermont marijuana legislation, including Governor Peter Shumlin’s 2013 decriminalization bill, and most recently he introduced legislation in January 2014 to fully legalize marijuana, for recreational and medical use. Although he introduced his legislation knowing that it would not be adopted this year or anytime soon, Zuckerman saw the importance of presenting the concept to the legislature.

“Sometimes the important part is to get the concept out,” said Zuckerman as he paused from his lunch, “By formally presenting the issue to the state Congress, it becomes legitimate and lawmakers must discuss it.”

As revolutionary legalization of recreational marijuana takes flight in Colorado and Washington this year, Vermonters wonder if and when marijuana legalization could be possible at home. Medically, over 1000 Vermont citizens are registered to receive marijuana for various debilitating illnesses such as glaucoma, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Medical marijuana dispensaries were legalized in Vermont in 2011, and immediately began providing medication to hundreds who qualified.

Shayne Lynn is the Executive Director of the Champlain Valley Dispensary in Burlington, and he works every day to provide medical cannabis to Vermonters.

“We provide our patients with a local, organic plant-based alternative for symptom relief,” Lynn stated. “By doing so, patients who need cannabis no longer need to seek their medicine on the black market.”

Recreationally, marijuana is decriminalized statewide in small amounts but is still not legal. Under this classification, offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana could receive a possession fine but no criminal charges. The decision to legalize marijuana appears cut-and-dry, but shades of gray create a barricade that could stop marijuana right in its path.

With marijuana, Colorado has founded a full-fledged booming industry. When recreational marijuana dispensaries opened their doors on January 1, the flood of resilient Coloradoans interested in purchasing marijuana was staggering. In the first week, recreational marijuana sales earned over $5 million and planted the seed for a massively lucrative business. As the year presses on and the legal marijuana industry continues to flourish, people all around the country watch with baited breath. The nation is skeptical, wondering where Colorado will go wrong and what problems will arise, but no one can question how legitimate the business seems to be.

By the end of 2014, the non-partisan Tax Foundation estimates that Colorado will earn almost $70 million in marijuana tax revenue, an incredible number to match the projected $500 million in all recreational sales this year. Through lifting the veil on marijuana and legalizing it statewide, Colorado is enabling an unprecedented flow of tax and sales revenue that can be put to important state uses. The Centennial State sees the overwhelming response to marijuana and the massive sales, and will use the tax revenues initially for school construction. All Colorado citizens, whether they use marijuana or not, can benefit from its legalization.

Vidda Crochetta is a former marijuana decriminalization activist and cofounder of Marijuana Resolve, a Vermont organization founded to promote cannabis legalization. He worked for years with other activists to lift the stigmas on marijuana and encourage lawmakers to make it legal for all uses.

“Our goal, [with Marijuana Resolve]” Crochetta said conclusively, “was to take the issue of marijuana to the people of Vermont and see what they had to say about it.”

In a battle between activists and politicians, Crochetta and Marijuana Resolve focused their efforts on educating ordinary Vermonters on the truths about marijuana use and provoking discussion on it.

“Many of the people who are against marijuana are also those who don’t know much about it,” said Crochetta, “By having the conversation we can prove that there has never been a social, medical, or scientific context for criminalizing marijuana.”

Marijuana advocacy in Vermont has been a growing trend. For years, marijuana has remained an untouched subject by many people. However, groups like Marijuana Resolve and the Marijuana Policy Project formed in Vermont to push for marijuana decriminalization and to promote education about it. For Crochetta, being a marijuana advocate meant fighting for the freedom of adults to make decisions for themselves. He and his colleagues held rallies and events throughout Vermont for years to promote legalization, and were ultimately rewarded in 2013 with H. 200, the bill signed by Governor Peter Shumlin to decriminalize cannabis.  Although it is a very productive step, Crochetta can only look beyond decriminalization.

“Decriminalization is less harsh, but under it using marijuana is still an illegal act,” Crochetta said, “Full legalization would push marijuana into the mainstream of responsible, adult use.”

The legalization of marijuana could economically, socially, and politically benefit the state of Vermont. From looking at the unprecedented success (so far) of Colorado and Washington, it is clear that the endeavor would make money and provide free tax revenue to the state. Like all states, Vermont has debt and Vermont has needs that don’t have monetary support. Legalizing and governmentally regulating marijuana offers revenues to improve education and public works, fight serious drug use and addiction in Vermont, and drastically lower court and incarceration costs.

Senator Zuckerman again pauses from his lunch. His eyes wander about the room for a moment and then refocus.

“Most people would agree that one of the primary uses of state marijuana revenue should be for prevention and treatment with respect to serious drug addictions in Vermont,” he says firmly. “Having something be legal and regulated allows for services that can help with the problems that arise from it.”

The biggest example of this, according to Zuckerman and Crochetta, is alcohol. Alcohol has been an ever-present, knowingly damaging, and legal part of our society and culture since its inception. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 25,000 people die every year from alcohol consumption. By having it be legal, the public can research it and provide what’s needed when problems [such as addiction] arise.

Although the vast majority does not and marijuana consumption-related deaths are almost nonexistent, some marijuana users can become addicted. Researchers estimate that about 9 percent of marijuana users become clinically addicted. In the event that a person does become addicted to marijuana, we have no services to offer and no effective treatment plan in place to help them. As with any drug, we must first concretely research it before we can combat its negative effects. Legalization would remove stigmas of marijuana and promote a better understanding of how it affects people. With that, Vermont and the entire country could effectively combat marijuana addiction and promote responsible use.

Neither Senator Zuckerman nor Vidda Crochetta denies that there are concerns with legalization. For many, the idea of marijuana as a “gateway drug” to more serious substances keeps them from supporting it. For law enforcement, the idea of people driving on public streets and highways under the influence of marijuana invokes immediate opposition. Unlike alcohol, there is no way to effectively road test someone for marijuana. Many others question how the government would handle the regulation of marijuana. Senator Zuckerman understands these concerns, but responds by asking,

“Are the difficulties of legal marijuana larger or smaller than the issues created by having it be illegal?”

In his mind, the good vastly outweighs the bad. In 2012, 67% of all drug-related criminal incidents in Vermont involved marijuana. If marijuana were legalized, local police departments and the state would significantly cut down on incarceration and legal costs. Incarceration numbers and prison overpopulation could be combatted with the removal of marijuana as an illegal substance. Again, the extraneous revenue of this could be put back into important Vermont public uses.

As Senator Zuckerman finishes his lunch, he smiles. He’s waiting to pursue marijuana legalization more seriously in the coming months and years, but is satisfied with where Vermont is in the process. His bill provided Congress with the idea of marijuana, and now he knows to just wait and watch the Northwest.

“We can have a realistic conversation about it next year…Colorado. We will understand the pitfalls from a year of legal marijuana in Colorado and we can create a bill that addresses those pitfalls.”

The road ahead for Vermont marijuana is tricky. There is still not universal support for recreational legalization, and many people aren’t willing to discuss it. Most Vermont lawmakers want to see the long-term effects of legal marijuana in Colorado before considering it at home. There are many concerns to address and many roadblocks to pass. By continuing the discussion on marijuana, lawmakers cannot ignore the subject and must consider it. The legislators and lawmakers of today will decide the future, and it could be a future with legal weed.

Joe Humes is a Saint Michael’s College student interested in media studies and journalism

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This entry was posted on May 30, 2014 by in Agriculture, Civil Liberties, culture, Law, Politics.
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