Opinions Clash as Lobbyist’s Discuss Legalization

Waterbury(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.

Lawmaker’s Reject Bill

Montpelier (April.8) – The House Committee on Judiciary failed to pass a marijuana bill with a 5-6 vote. The proposed bill would have allowed for further education and study, before legalization. The bill would also have loosened the restrictions for current possession laws. “I have no respect for our current governor for his position on this,” Rep. Vicki Strong(R- Orleans-Caledonia) said. “It’s a mind altering drug and that has consequences,” Strong said, her voice breaking as she reached for a tissue.

Lawmaker’s Concerns Rise After Legalization Hearing

Montpelier (April. 6) – Lawmakers expressed concern over proposed marijuana bill not allowing Vermonters to grow their own weed. “They all come up to the microphone and say ‘I just want to grow one [marijuana]plant in my garden with my tomatoes,’”  Rep. William Jewett(D-Addison), vice chair for the House Committee on Judiciary said about last Thursday’s public hearing. The current bill, S.241 as passed by the Senate, does not allow for homegrown, but lawmakers said they hope to “phase it in” after a few years. Jewett said he would like to research the possibility of introducing homegrown weed into the bill.

Former Vermont Attorney General is “All For” Legalization

Montpelier(Mar. 30) – A former State Attorney General said that he supports the legalization of marijuana. Jerome Diamond, who served three terms as Vermont’s Attorney General, testified to the House Committee’s on Judiciary and Government Operations and recommended that they “take control” of this issue and legalize this year. Diamond said he spent years prosecuting marijuana offenses and that the war on drugs did not work. “If you stop marijuana, you’ll stop everything else,” Diamond said, “and that was a disastrous theory.”

He said by legalizing, lawmakers have the ability to control the process, the growers and as a result, the quality of the product.

Lobbyist Unsure of Judiciary Vote

Montpelier (Mar. 25) – “Wells River, Middlebury and Underhill,” Kevin Ellis ,lobbyist for Ellis Mills Public Affairs said as he pointed to various members of the House Committee on Judiciary. He knows all their names, where they are from, whether they are Republican or Democrat and, most importantly,  how all that information might influence them in voting for or against the marijuana legalization bill. Ellis said he has been a lobbyist for 25 years and his firm is representing SAM-VT, a anti-marijuana legalization group. While everyone’s focus is on the lawmakers hearing testimony on the  bill, not much public attention is given to those hard at work for their clients from inside the meeting room.

Prohibition Isn’t Working

Montpelier(Mar. 16) – The marijuana legalization bill began its journey through the statehouse today and has some lawmakers testifying for its approval. “Prohibition isn’t working”, said Rep. Christopher Pearson (R-Chittenden) to the House Committee on Judiciary. “Folks believe that prohibition is working,” Pearson said, “and this isn’t a bill you’re probably going to spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not something worth supporting.”

He said that the some fellow lawmakers believe that prohibition isn’t working and the numbers match their opinions, with about 80,000 Vermonters reporting using marijuana within the last month.

Hinesburg Town Meeting

Hinesburg (Mar.1) – Residents of the town of Hinesburg, Vermont traveled to Champlain Valley Union High School, Monday night, to attend their town meeting. Town meetings have long been a tradition as a way for residents to be appreciated and to discuss the town budget and voice their concerns. The main subject of Hinesburg’s meeting, was the increase in town budget of $153,000, which would cause an increase in taxes for homeowners, said Michael Bissonette, chairperson of the town selectboard. One of the reasons behind Hinesburg’s budget increase is due to paying for the new 2015 snowplow, said Andrea Morgante, selectboard member. She said that even though the mild winter has saved them fuel and salt costs, the plow and a new town garage for the snow plow and other highway maintenance vehicles, are part of the budgetary increase.

Cold Temperatures Raise Housing Concerns

Montpelier (Feb.17) – Concerns over the housing crisis for Burlington’s homeless population rose, this week, as the temperatures fell. Sean Brown, deputy commissioner for the Economic Services Division of the  Department for Children and Families, presented a budget to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs outlining some of the greatest issues regarding the homeless population in Vermont. One of the most recent concerns was the availability of emergency housing for the homeless who do not qualify for general assistance, Brown said. According to the DCF website, if a person does not qualify for general assistance housing and the temperature or wind chill is less than 20 degrees, or 50% chance of precipitation and 32 degrees, a person might qualify for emergency housing from 6 p.m. – 6 a.m.. He said with the temperature and wind chill far below 20 degrees this past weekend, the ESD was concerned that the hotels they have contracted as emergency placement housing would be at capacity.

Legalization Debate Continues

Montpelier(Feb. 3) – The debate over legalizing marijuana continued this week in Montpelier, as businesses and organizations voiced their worries. The Senate Committee for Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs listened to several testimonies from a trucking company, to the collaborative attempting to pass the bill. Dave Malloy, safety manager for Bellavance Trucking voiced his concerns about legal marijuana use, and what it means for employers. Since there is no accurate method of testing a person’s THC levels, he said he is concerned about liability.

Sullivan Asks for Increased Funding

 

Montpelier(Jan. 27) -,President Thomas Sullivan highlighted the 2014-2015 year at UVM and asked the House Committee on Education for an increase in funding. Sullivan covered a variety of topics, from the new STEM building, to the university’s efforts in attracting and graduating low-income Vermont students. Sullivan asked the committee for a 5.2% increase in funding for FY 2017. He said over 1,000 Vermonters graduate from UVM every year and that one of their goals is to increase that number by giving low income Vermont residents the ability to afford a college education.