Facebook Page of Gov. Phil Scott
Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) created a commission to study the legalization of marijuana in the state on Sept. 7 via executive order. This executive order comes only four months after Scott’s veto of S. 241, a bill that would create a similar commission in addition to legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, which passed the Vermont Legislature in May 2017.
“This Commission is part of a more thoughtful, deliberative process to deal with an issue that impacts all of us” Scott said in a statement.
The commission will include thirteen members and will be chaired by Tom Little (R), and Jake Perkinson (D), as reported by The Burlington Free Press. The mission and timeline of the commission created by Gov. Scott via executive order will differ little from that conceived of by the Vermont Legislature in May. The commission will focus its studies on the public health in addition to the economic effects of the creation of a regulated marijuana market in Vermont. The commission will meet by Oct. 1 of this year and will release a report regarding the possibility of a taxed and regulated marijuana market in Vermont by Dec. 15.
Although 65 percent of Vermonters approve of the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, passage of a bill guaranteeing that right has met opposition within the Vermont legislature in addition to bodies governing at the town and village level. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) currently lobbies the state government in favor of local interests and has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization in Vermont.
“Speaking with one voice on behalf of many Vermont municipalities, VLCT educates state and federal officials about the impact of their actions on local governments and informs them of municipal needs” The Vermont League of Cities and Towns said on their website. The VLCT opposes the legalization of marijuana in Vermont on the basis of lack of clarity of the proposed policies that would implement legalization.
“Because there are so many unanswered questions, VLCT has from day one opposed the legalization of marijuana, and supports keeping current law intact which treats possession of small amounts of marijuana as a ticket-able offense, similar to a traffic citation” Gwyn Zakov said in the VCLT’s ninth Weekly Legislative Report of 2016.
For proponents of legalization, however, the study commission may not be as promising. Dave Silberman, a corporate lawyer based in Middlebury and spouse of a college professor, works pro bono on the legalization of marijuana in Vermont and explained this sentiment.
“The entire point of that commission is to slow things down” Silberman said. “The Vermont legislature has taken 100 hours of testimony in many different committees — all of these issues have been studied.”
The issue of the legalization of marijuana is not confined to the Vermont state government but has also caused controversy within Middlebury’s Selectboard, the entity that governs the local affairs of Middlebury along with the town manager.
“Each of the past two years, Middlebury’s Selectboard had authorized our town’s representative to the VLCT, Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay, to [oppose legalization], but without any notice or public discussion around the marijuana platform” Silberman said in an email.
Afterwards, Middlebury town residents passed a resolution prohibiting the Selectboard, governing body, from taking a position on the legalization of marijuana without public hearings. In August, the Selectboard conducted a survey to find the Middlebury community’s views on the legalization of marijuana.
“Town residents’ responses were overwhelming 68 percent in favor of legalization, and against further lobbying on the issue 65 percent,” Silberman said.
Proponents of legalization argue that legalization would provide a myriad of public health and economic benefits to the state of Vermont. In Colorado, it is estimated that the legalization of marijuana added 135 million dollars to the state’s revenue in addition to creating thousands of new jobs, as reported by The Boston Globe.
“In May, 2017, the non-partisan Joint Fiscal Office estimated that a regulated cannabis market would produce approximately $350 million of economic activity each year, or roughly 1.2 percent of annual Gross State Product” Silberman said.
Likewise, proponents argue that legalization would help stem the opioid crisis currently plaguing the state. Despite efforts to curb the crisis, Vermont accounted for 106 opioid related deaths in 2016 alone, representing a 41 percent increase from the previous year. Likewise, The Rutland Herald reported that 17 percent of Vermonters received a prescription for an opioid in 2014, greatly increasing their chances of becoming addicted to prescription opioids in addition to heroin.
“Given the choice, people suffering from chronic pain are choosing cannabis over far more harmful and addictive opioids. States with safe and legal access to cannabis, and particularly those with robust regulated distribution models, see 16 percent fewer opioid-drugged driving deaths, a 20 percent reduction in opioid-related hospitalizations, and 24 percent fewer opioid/opiate overdose deaths than states without” Silberman said.
On the other hand, opponents of legalization argue that Vermont lacks law enforcement infrastructure that is as extensive as that of states like Colorado and Massachusetts and that allows legalization to be a viable option.
“In a state where many communities do not have local police departments and have to contract out for law enforcement services and where towns are often far from those services, we worry that S.241 addresses none of these concerns. Compare that with Colorado, where every municipality that voted to allow marijuana establishment has a local police or sheriff department, and sometimes both,” the VLCT said in a legislative report from March of 2016.
The VLCT also opposed S.241 on the grounds that it provided no funding for municipalities and local governments to handle the problems arising from the legalization.
Despite recent setbacks and strong opposition, supporters of legalization remain optimistic that the state of Vermont will eventually join the likes of the nine states in addition to the District of Columbia that have already legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.
“The most harmful thing about marijuana is its criminalization,” Silberman said.