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Notes From The Senate - S.241 Marijuana Legalization and Regulation

Last week the Senate voted to pass a bill that would allow legalization and regulation of marijuana. It will be posted on the Legislative website by the end of the week. It is S.241 as passed by the Senate. Here are some of the reasons I sponsored and voted for the bill, and some of the highlights - what it is and what it isn't.

For many years I have felt that our policy of prohibition has not worked - not for youth, for law enforcement and not for the citizens who have become criminals because of it. In 2014 the Rand group was commissioned to report on the potential for legalization in Vermont. In 2015 the Government Operations committee, which I chair, took testimony on the report and how it should be done in Vermont if it was to be done. We heard from everyone who had something to say - no one was denied a voice. From those hearings, Senator Benning (who is also on the committee) and I cosponsored S241. In January 2016 it went to the Judiciary Committee where testimony was taken. At the beginning of the session, Senator Sears, Chair, stated that there was no way he would vote for legalization. After hearing all the testimony and the facts, he changed his mind and became a strong supporter of legalization and regulation. As happens with all bills, it is different than it was as introduced.

My main reasons for support are these. We heard from kids that if they wanted to get alcohol they had to find someone over 21 willing to buy it for them, if they wanted marijuana they only had to go to the bathroom in their school So if regulation makes it harder for youth to obtain, let's regulate. We also heard that dealers usually have more than marijuana and were not at all concerned about giving other substances to youth. We heard from people who have records because they choose marijuana when their neighbors who drank alcohol do not have records (in fact the state has criminalized one substance and actually sells you the other one). While many professional organizations opposed it, we did hear from individual law enforcement officers, pediatricians, medical doctors, and substance abuse counselors that it was the right thing to do since our current policy doesn't work.

It is hard to summarize all the testimony, reading, etc into a short explanation but am willing to talk with anyone who would like more information. I should point out that there is a report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that purports to give statistics from Colorado. We spoke to the Colorado officials and they told us that this group that sounds like it might be objective is actually an arm of the DEA and their statistics are questionable.

So what is in the bill?

It would license and regulate the cultivation and retail of marijuana for adult use. This means that the product will be tested, taxed (currently 25% sales tax) and only those with licenses will be allowed to grow or sell. The regulation will be under the Department of Public Safety and the Agency of Agriculture.

It will not change the medical marijuana program.

There are no edibles (they will still be available in the dispensaries for medical patients), there are no lounges, no use on public properties. Landlords and employers can restrict just as they can tobacco and alcohol. Local communities can vote to be "dry" just as they can alcohol. Even if they are not dry they can still regulate time, place and manner.

Youth - under 21 use will be just as it is for alcohol. Providing to anyone under 21 will have the same consequences as providing alcohol - providing to under 18 will have a double penalty. There is $350,000 to the Department of Health to immediately begin an education /prevention program.

A couple major concerns with the bill are home grow and what is seen as the corporate model. There is not home grow in this bill. It is illegal now, it will remain so - it will not be more illegal. What the bill does have is a committee that will come back next year with a report on home grow. It should be noted that the other states did not start with home grow and that some are now going there. So with this bill there is the possibility of home grow in the future, without it there is not that possibility. I know some felt that it is better to have no bill but I do not agree. If this bill becomes law it is a huge leap toward ending prohibition and instituting more rationale regulation. And I believe this really is our only chance of passage for at least the next 4-6 years.

Any money generated through the tax will be divided evenly between prevention/education, treatment, and the justice system including courts and law enforcement. There has been some suggestion that the additional money for law enforcement will intensify efforts against home growers. I do not think this is accurate. We have issues with trafficking, especially other drugs, and impaired driving in general, this will be the target of that money.

The other issue is the corporate model. The bill contains a number of provisions that are aimed at keeping it from becoming a monopoly or open only to the wealthy. Only Vermonters can own an establishment, only Vermonters can invest, no one can have an interest in more than one establishment, there is a cap on the size of cultivators. In the first year there would be 27 cultivators, 10 up to 1,000 sq ft, 4 up to 2500, 10 up to 5000 and 3 up to 10000 - none larger. The second year would double those numbers. (our original bill had many more cultivators but this is a compromise). There will be 15 retailers the first year and double that the second year.

The bill now goes to the House. They are talking about it going to 5 committees so it sounds as if they are looking to defeat it without having a vote. In the Senate it officially went to 3 committees, and 5 more suggested changes. The chairs of 3 of those opposed the bill but chose not let it die in their committees. I hope the House would do the same and not let it just dies because each committee feels the need to officially "take the bill". If it makes it out of the House, there will be a conference committee and then on to the Governor.

The bill is not ideal but it is a huge leap in the right direction. And I believe it is the right thing to do. We can make changes, without it we remain where we are. My belief is that it will limit access for youth (and make it safer for those who do try it), it will undercut the black market, it will not create criminals out of citizens who use it, and it will lead to more rationale drug laws.



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In all the years I've watched lawmaking, it's by steps that things get done. Thanks to all the legislators who've worked for common sense and the common good in this and thanks Jeanette for letting us know.


Thanks for the update!

"Only Vermonters can own an establishment, only Vermonters can invest, no one can have an interest in more than one establishment"

This seems like an okay trade-off, though wealthy Vermonters will get the jump on everyone else in terms of establishing brands, naming, etc.

As long as I'm advocating and nothing is set yet, let's see 10-15% of that 25% tax go to the locality that generated the tax revenue, to be spent on police stations and other things.


Now put that in your pipe and smoke it

I can't shake the feeling that there is a sense of stigma still attached to marijuana. Legalization should have been a no-brainer by now. It's either an adult choice or it isn't. All of these preventionist halfwits should step aside. Instead, however, the legs are taking the process in baby steps. They're all afraid to go one way or the other for fear someone's hair on their necks will stand up.

Also, prevention isn't any of the goddamned business of the government to use taxpayers money for. Marijuana legalization is an adult issue. Therefore using or not using marijuana is a viable decision for adults to make and therefore this prevention crap should not be paid for with adult taxpayer monies.

Most adults already know that the real key to successfully and safely navigating their desires is "moderation" not prevention. This is something that should be taught to the under-aged as well to help better prepare them for when they are adults.

Prevention is an opinion, not a valid teaching tool.

Now put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Thanks Jeanett for the update

I agree with Vidda. I'd probably go further than him and stop this nonsense altogether surrounding this plant that has so many beneficial qualities. It should be totally liberated and all the arbitrary restrictions put on it should be extinguished tout suite. Sounds more like an excuse for job security than anything to help the public.

Money generated should not go to prevention/education or treatment or law enforcement or the justice system that jailed people for smoking the plant in the first place! Other trafficking of addictive drugs should be treated as separate regarding law enforcement. And show the evidence for impaired driving please. That could very well be a myth.

The most sensible and obvious way from preventing it from becoming a monopoly is to let people grow their own. What is the logic for limiting the personal growing of this plant? Why all the restriction to number of cultivars, size of plot and why 15 retailers? Why not 16 or 20, or 40 or 100? Or no limit? Why do we think we always need limits (except when it comes to income)?

All this dictatorship makes my head spin. How about putting a poll to the people who the legislators supposedly represent and see what they actually want?

Isn't it bizarre that marijuana has been prohibited yet the Federal government has the patent on cannabinoids for their curative properties? Apart from the fact that natural substances aren't even supposed to be able to be patented, how many people have suffered and died needlessly, only due to this insane prohibition?

Something does not compute here - we're accepting the mandates of those who insisted marijuana was a gateway drug. We need to make them accountable for their errors as they have ruined the lives of many. Now we're supposed to just take their statutes as rational?



Some answers

10-15% for local communities who host - there is a provision that a community will be able to put on a local option tax. And part of the 25% will go to communities - perhaps not for police stations but for other things. The DREs (drug recognition experts can be from local law enforcement, the money for justice could go to local justice centers, and the appropriations committee could always make that decision based on good arguments from communities.

The prevention money is not aimed at adults. It is aimed at youth and educating them about marijuana. Adults can make their own decisions. Treatment money is primarily aimed at other substances.

Thanks Jeanette


We are over-policed thank you

money should not go to law enforcement. We have less crime than 30 years ago, far less, yet we have more police and more money spent to house and equip them. This makes no sense. Surely police payrolls should be pegged to something like crime rates whih seems to be a logical benchmark.

But again, let's let the people decide by using online polls. That would be an upgrade on democracy and bring our antiquated politics into the 21st century somewhat.


The clinging grip of the misguided zero-tolerance aberrations

Preventionists don’t want to teach prevention to save our youth. They want to raise our youth’s with their prescription of prevention to create drug free adults. They’re not fooling anyone but themselves, as the DARE program enthusiasts found out. Adults enjoy their drugs of choice. And, so will our youth, once they get to adulthood, beyond the clinging grip of the misguided zero-tolerance aberrations.


"Adults enjoy their drugs of choice."

I think many people forget or do not acknowledge, especially anti-drug people (which includes too many lawmakers), that the majority of both youth and adults do not abuse drugs. Statistically, it's not possible for that to happen. The reason why, after generation to generation, we find that the majority of people survive and thrive over time is that most of us do not abuse ourselves. But, it's important to the preventionists and too many officials that they make us believe that abuse rules the day. It does not.

Of course, the fact that there is an ungodly amount of Money to be had from "protecting us from ourselves" skewers the drug abuse syndrome out of proportion to its real-time actually.

I say again, No to prevention; Yes to moderation.


Thanks Jeanine

Appreciate you moving us in the right direction. Being able to elect leaders who aren't in the pockets of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco & prison unions is the reason I vote.

The bill's not perfect, really written a bit more conservatively than it should, but it's a nice step. I will say that while Vermont's medical program is also overly restrictive, it provides a wholesome non-profit structure for dispensaries and personal grows for patients. In my experience, there's no organized crime, chemical additives, or sleaze. The folks at my local dispensary are genuinely friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful people that care about providing organically grown medicine with genetics specifically tailored to accentuating medicinal benefits. If being overly cautious is necessary to minimize any issues, at least initially, I can understand that.

With towns/cities like Burlington and Brattleboro, leaders like you and Bernie Sanders, Vermont's actually becoming a cool place to live... and that's coming from a Masshole


Some people might confuse moderation education with advocacy

Some people might confuse moderation with advocacy. It's important to note that moderation is an education tool for preparation for adulthood. No one I know advocates any drug use for people under 18-21 (whatever the lawful age is) unless directed by a doctor. However, moderation is sorely not dealt with because the emphasis is on prevention, not moderation.

Obviously, moderation is also an important teaching tool for adults as well.


But one wouldn't want to overdose on moderation either

Little joke there.


Reason to do it #765

Recent studies are showing that in states where it is legal, opiate addiction drops.

Not that we'd want that here, of course... : )


No Leg's

This marijuana legislative experience really sinks it in that we need to restrict the authority, lobbyists and the committees and bill design of the legislature to be an adjunct to Vermont referendum, with final law the perview of the referndum, not the legislature.


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