Vermont Pot Legalization Dead

Montpelier (May 3) – Vermont’s hopes to be the first state to legalize marijuana through legislation were dashed today by a House vote against legalization. The Vermont House killed Senate Language that would legalize having up to an ounce of marijuana, voting 121-28 against it. This was followed by another vote on whether or not the question should be put on a non-binding referendum for voters in the August primaries, which was also voted down 97-51. House majority leaders worked to promote “compromise language,” which would remove legalization, but add expanded decriminalization. The expanded decriminalization would decriminalize up to 2 ounces of marijuana, rather than the current 1 ounce, and decriminalize growing up to two plants.

Dr. Chen Talks Youth Prevention With House Appropriations

Montpelier (April 20) – Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health warned the House Appropriations committee against legalizing marijuana as well as discussing youth education and prevention efforts through social marketing. Dr. Chen started his testimony with a clear message that the Vermont Department of Health sees “no compelling reason to legalizing marijuana,” however, if it were to become legalized, the market should be heavily regulated to prevent health impacts that could come with unregulated marijuana. According to data collected by the Vermont Department of Health, only 27% of youth perceive marijuana as risky, which is a number that may only decrease with the legalization of marijuana; however, with the right education programs, the number doesn’t have to decrease. Committee Chair Mitzi Johnson asked Dr. Chen what a strategy to curb youth marijuana would look like if he were to design one, starting a discussion about what that education program and campaign could entail. Dr. Chen envisioned an education program that continuing this frank discussion, “Let’s leverage these discussions we’ve been having into something people can hear and listen and continue, so we get that message out.” This would mean piping these conversations into education programs within schools as well as parent education programs.

The Appropriations Committee will continue to hear testimony until they reach a decision whether or not to pass the bill.

House Judiciary Passes Marijuana Bill, Removes Legalization

Montpelier (April 8) – Not having enough support for full legalization, a divided House Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 in favor of their overhaul of a bill passed by the senate to legalize and regulate marijuana in Vermont. This overhaul removes legalization and focuses on creating a bill that would help Vermont prepare for a future with legalized marijuana. The bill, which would provide framework and money for Vermont to start education and prevention programs throughout the state, as well as important training for law enforcement. The bill would also set up a commission to study the legalization of recreational marijuana. Proposed earlier in the day was a version this bill that included an easing of decriminalization laws and penalties.

Public Voices Mixed Opinions on Marijuana Legalization

Montpelier (March 31) – Vermonters voiced strong and divided opinions on the legalization of marijuana at the public hearing held at the statehouse. Many testified in front of House Judiciary committee and Government Operations committee to get their voice heard in the debate to legalize.  Opinions were divided, and with close to 70 people testifying, themes in arguments emerged on both sides. Anti legalization advocates heavily emphasized the dangerous effects marijuana legalization could have on the youth. Many expressed a fear that it would encourage teens to use marijuana, which would lead to a derailment of their studies and personal lives.

Vermont Doctors Warn Against Marijuana Legalization

Montpelier (Mar 23) – Doctors in Vermont say that legalizing marijuana could harm Vermont’s youth. With the bill to legalize marijuana having made it to the house judiciary committee, Doctors are speaking up about potential dangers of passing the bill too quickly. Dr. Jon Porter, a family physician and the director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing at UVM believes that, “we take marijuana too lightly as a society.” Dr. Porter testified before the House Judiciary Committee warning them against legalizing it before giving the health consequences associated with youth and marijuana serious consideration. Although marijuana would still be illegal for people under the age of 21 under the proposed legislation, Dr. Porter fears that with legalization would come an increase in normalization (societal acceptance), “there is a message with legalization,” youth may think that smoking marijuana is totally fine and safe for them. This is not true – according to Dr. Porter, “over time, people develop a deficit relative to what their potential is.”

Due to a strong association between marijuana use and mental health issues among the youth population, doctors are discouraging legalization because of the harm that could come from an increase in youth marijuana use.

Prohibition Weakens Education

Montpelier (Mar 16) – Marijuana prohibition could be getting in the way of effective youth drug education. Representative Christopher Pearson spoke before the House Judiciary committee saying the need to end the marijuana prohibition is necessary if we want to educate Vermont youths on the dangers of other harmful drugs. Pearson discussed what he believed to be damaging impacts of prohibition that stems from the classification and division of substances. Alcohol and Tobacco are legal substances in one category, while marijuana is lumped into a group with heroin and meth. Pearson believes that this classification “prevents us from having a necessary and reality based discussion about potential harm of using marijuana” as well as “diminishes the potency” when educating young people about the dangers of a drug like heroin.

Hinesburg Improves Budget Increase

Hinesburg (Feb 29)- Citizens at the Hinesburg town meeting voted to increase the town budget by $153,601. The FY17 proposed municipal budget is $3,369,689, a 4.78% increase from the FY16 budget. The town meeting took place in the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium, and was attended by around 130 community members. The meeting began with Selectboard Chairman Michael Bissonette asking those in the room who had ever volunteered for the town of Hinesburg to stand up. Around three fourths of the room rose and were thanked for their dedication to the town.

SWIFT Program’s Effectiveness Questioned

Montpelier (Feb 24) – The SWIFT program, a transformational special education program, was adopted by several Vermont school systems; however, it has since been dropped by one district, forcing the House Committee on Education to take a deeper look into the effectiveness of the program. SWIFT (Schoolwide Integrated Framework For Transition), is a national K-8 program that was established to provide technical assistance to schools looking to improve the way they educate those with special education needs. The SWIFT model focuses on what they refer to as an “equity based education,” which means integrating special education into the rest of the school so every student feels as though they belong, while their needs are fully met and supported. Several Vermont public schools decided to adopt the program in 2013; however the program was met with mixed results. Marisa Duncan-Holley, Director of Special Education for Windham Southeast, was excited to learn about the program, “to me it was a gift of, let’s look at education through a different lens.” Marisa was happy to hear that Bennington and Brattleboro were to pick up the program; however, it was to be funded through the state of Vermont rather than the federal grant.

Bristol Second Graders Testify on Farm to School

Montpelier (Feb 10) – Farm to School awareness day in the state house brought many people from around the state to a joint hearing for an update on the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program. Testimony was given by various people throughout the state who are involved in the program – including a group of second graders from Bristol. The state funding for the program has been cut by 60% since it was enacted in 2007 despite a growing demand throughout the state. Many who testified encouraged the committee to consider a funding increase to help support the success of the program.  

Since its inception, the program has grown to include 120 schools throughout the state, reaching over 30,000 students.

Marijuana Legalization Could Pose Workplace Safety Issue

Montpelier (Feb 3) – The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs heard testimony Wednesday morning regarding the legalization of marijuana in the state of Vermont. Concerned about the effects marijuana legalization would have on workers and workplace safety, the committee heard from Dave Molloy of Bellavance Trucking, a local Vermont company. It became clear that there are still many unanswered questions regarding the safety of marijuana in the workplace that translate into concerns about general public safety. Molloy raised serious concerns regarding government regulated drug testing and company liability stating that the “current testing is not adequate.” The current federal law has zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs in the workplace; however, it is hard to tell if an employee if breaking that law because targeted drug testing is not permitted. Drug testing is random, and doesn’t happen regularly.