April 14, 2016

Opinions Clash as Lobbyist’s Discuss Legalization

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WaterburyIMG_1595(April 13.) Sitting in a room just big enough for three people, two lobbyist on opposing sides of the marijuana debate faced off for the first time.

Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MAP), a pro-legalization group, said he has only spoken to his opposing lobbyist, Kevin Ellis of Ellis Mills Public Affairs, for about 90 seconds.

That was about to change on Wednesday, as both lobbyist were invited to debate marijuana on local radio station, WDEV’s Open Mike program with broadcaster and station owner, Ken Squire.

Ellis, who represents Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT) said he believes the legalization bill, as passed by the senate, to be a bad idea and that common ground needs to be found.

“On issues of decriminalization, we shouldn’t be putting people in jail,” he said, “the criminal justice system hasn’t been doing a good job.”

Ellis said the bill will only work if millions of dollars are used to create a whole new infrastructure and that money would come from out-of-state corporations.

Ellis said that instead of spending millions on legalization, they should be spending that money on increasing education around drug prevention.

“That’s just another disingenuous argument from your organization, ” Simon said in response.

The two lobbyist can find little to agree on, but they did both agree that prohibition did not work.

“Prohibition didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean we should promote it to children,” Ellis said, “ for once Vermont should wait to see what other states do.”

On the other side of the mic, Simon responded by saying Vermont has been very thoughtful about the legalization process and it’s being phased in slowly.

Simon and Ellis were not the only ones voicing their opinions on marijuana, a caller identified only as “Bill from Barre”, said he is 100% against legalization.

Even though he has never smoked marijuana and doesn’t drink alcohol, Bill said he thought legalization was “bologna” and that marijuana is very harmful to users.

He said that almost everyone knows someone who’s been harmed by drugs.

“Marijuana is, objectively, less harmful than alcohol,” Simon said in response.

Education is important in these situations because marijuana shouldn’t be placed in the same group as heroine, which is something that is done often, Simon said.

“I’ve been smoking everyday for 45 years,” said Fred, a caller from Monkton, Vermont, “what does this man have against a little green plant?”

Fred said that he has never experienced side effects from smoking, has lived a productive life and has owned businesses.

“This plant is a beautiful, beautiful thing,” Fred said.

“To quote Bob Marley, ‘it keeps the aches and pains away’,” he said.

Simon responded saying that there is a large body of research on marijuana’s ability to fight chronic pain, like the “aches and pains”.

He said it’s already too difficult for someone to access medical marijuana and legalization would improve that.

“There are people using it [marijuana] to treat PTSD and they have to buy it from criminals,” Simon said, “ it’s not right.”

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