April 30, 2016

Marijuana Legalized in State Senate, Debated at UVM

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February 25 — The Vermont State Senate passed the marijuana legalization bill Thursday with a 17-12 vote. This is only the first step toward legal weed in Vermont, but it is an important first. All similar laws in other states have been enacted through popular votes, not through the government.

A poll of UVM students showed that 77 percent support marijuana legalization, compared with 55 percent of Vermonters in Vermont Public Radio’s study. Both studies were conducted February 22.

The Students

Community Entrepreneurship major Senou Lynn thinks that the passage of this bill would “provide a route of opportunity for new markets, economic boost for Vermont, and small businesses.” With his interest in business, Senou finds the future of legalization bright.

“I think [marijuana] should be legalized. It causes a lot of unneeded arrests and is just as detrimental – or less – than alcohol is,” said sophomore Sumner Lebaron-Brien.

When asked if she thinks legalization would change the campus atmosphere at all, Lydia, a sophomore, replied, “I think it would stay the same. It’s already pretty prevalent. I mean, have you seen 4/20 around here?”

Sophomore Callan Noone, is “all for it”. He thinks the revenue gained from the legalization of marijuana would be “unbeatable”. He hopes that the legalization of recreational marijuana would curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic we currently face in the state.

Camille Huey, a freshman, disclosed that upwards of 75% of her friends at UVM use recreational marijuana regularly and are pro-legalization.

Not every student is convinced that marijuana legalization in Vermont is a good path. Elena, a sophomore, is concerned about the effects legalization could have on Vermont’s children. “I think legalizing would make marijuana use more attractive to kids,” she said.

The Debate

Pro and anti-legalization lobbyists debated the issue in an intro communications class at UVM on Monday.

“That bill is a disaster. It threatens the very fabric of Vermont,” said Kevin Ellis, the lobbyist for anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Vermont (SAM-VT). Members of SAM-VT are concerned about the health impacts of long-term pot smoking, and see no reason to make it legal.

Ellis’ position is that legalization “normalizes bad behavior.” He says marijuana is a public health risk that would also damage society and communities. He also believes that government should be a moral leader and not make money off of a harmful substance, though he says this argument could backfire if people ask him about alcohol and tobacco.

Ellis is concerned that the current bill focuses on commercial sale, and does not include home-growing. “People want to destroy your lives by putting this stuff in a store,” he asserted. He thinks that large corporations would inevitably take over Vermont’s marijuana market.

Kevin Ellis is “right on every issue except this one,” said Bill Lofy, who represents the pro-legalization Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, a group of farmers and entrepreneurs dedicated to marijuana “the Vermont way,” focusing on small farms and businesses.

“The war on drugs has been an utter, abysmal failure.” Lofy said. Marijuana is already highly accessible here, and it should be regulated to make it safer, he continued.

Many on the pro side say the state could tax marijuana and use the money for education and drug treatment, both for marijuana and other drugs like heroin, which is a serious state-wide health issue.

UVM could also benefit financially by developing new technologies like roadside marijuana intoxication tests and selling them to the state, as Washington State University has done.

The Bill

The bill was passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, and the full Senate voted Wednesday and Thursday. From here, it moves to the House Judiciary Committee. The House is not as favorable towards legalization as the Senate, and the vote could go either way.

If the bill passes the House, it would then go to Governor Shumlin, who supports legalization.

Senate Bill 241, as it is known, would make it legal for Vermonters age 21 and over—only about half of UVM students—to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and non-residents up to ¼ ounce. The law does not permit the sale of edibles.

 

Growing limited numbers of cannabis plants for personal use was allowed in the original bill, but cut in committee. All growers must now be commercial and licensed through the state.

 

Major concerns in the bill include preventing minors from accessing marijuana, developing policies around drugged driving, and stopping “marijuana tourists”, or people who would hopefully visit Vermont to take advantage of legal weed, from leaving Vermont with the drug.

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