(Montpelier, March 30)— “If marijuana is legalized, this will be viewed as an opportunity,” Commissioner Susan Donegan said during another joint committee meeting regarding the current bill on legalization on Wednesday morning. The House Judiciary Committee and the Government Operations Committee heard testimony on Wednesday from various representatives with regards to Vermont public safety and this bill. Susan Donegan, of the Vermont Department for Financial Regulation, spoke about the potential for insurance companies in the area. In Vermont, there are many dangerous markets in which insurance companies take risks: the logging industry, day cares, and other related industries in the rural state. Donegan points out that this market is working because our insurance companies are willing to take risks.
Montpelier (Mar 30) – “The idea of legalization is different in concept than when it’s happening down the street from you,” Candace Block from the Association of Washington Cities testified before a joint meeting of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Government Operations Committee. She testified via phone from Washington to discuss the effects legalization has had on her state.
Block reminded the committees that marijuana possession became legal in Washington state in November 2011, but retail facilities have only been around since July 2014 – this is still new for them as well. She emphasized that Washington has an unregulated medical marijuana market, which sometimes leads to competition between recreational businesses and medicinal.
Block cited research that shows a slight uptick in impaired driving and an increase in calls to the Poison Control Hotline.
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.
Montpelier (March 31) – Comments at Thursday evening’s public hearing related to bill S. 241 to legalize marijuana ranged from strongly supportive to adamantly opposed, with plenty in between. The House Committees on Judiciary and on Government Operations heard testimony from the public, alternating between pro and anti legalization viewpoints. The arguments presented were not all straightforward. Some individuals demonstrated support of legalization in general, but were opposed to the provisions laid out in the current bill. Many argued that it was a mistake to exclude provisions for home grown marijuana in the bill.
Montpelier (Jan. 27) – Senator Alice Nitka stood firm about leaving the open container fine of marijuana legalization bill S. 241 at $25. The Senate Committee on Judiciary spent the day looking closely at the wording of the bill to make sure everyone agreed on it. One senator suggested the fine for an open container in a car should be $100, not $25. “Someone’s giving someone a ride, they don’t know what they’ve got” said Senator Nitka, arguing to keep the fine at $25 for the driver of the car. Another change the Senate Judiciary made to S. 241 was increasing the fine for the operator of the car from $25 to $50 if they are the owner of the marijuana. The committee was trying to make sure the appropriate fines were stated in the bill to ensure traffic safety. When asked how he felt about people driving under the influence of cannabis, Dr. Rob Williams of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, answered with a firm “don’t do it”. “The penalty should be the same for alcohol or drug impaired driving; stiff” said Williams. Although being pro-cannabis, Williams is open about the fact that it isn’t a harmless practice and that people must use cannabis wisely. The Senate Committee also discussed how statistics on marijuana usage and traffic accidents could not be the most reliable.
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.
Johnsbury Representative Janssen Willhoit (R) met with The Vermont House Committee on Health Care to offer amendments on House Bill 620, pleading to provide exemptions to churches and other houses of worship from contraception requirements under the law. The Vermont law mirrors the Affordable Care Act in that mandated employee health insurance policies must cover certain forms of contraception. A number of states have provided exemptions to religious organizations under the justification that paying for contraceptives violates their right of free exercise, when it violates a religious tenant. Rep. Willhoit described the absence of an exemption rider “as ordering a hamburger without the pickles” and has taken a stand to ‘defend civil liberty.’ The proposed amendments give Vermont regulatory agencies to do what is best for the state and would only apply within the church, not non profits or religious affiliates such as Saint Michael’s College. In fact, Rep. Willhoit continued, that “most states do provide this, we are in the minority” and further noting that Vermont, as one of the least church aligned states is talking about adding costs to protect religious liberties.
Montpelier VT (Mar 24) – “I have seen literally thousands of examples of the effects of marijuana. It does not fit the narrative that is being spun to you,” Michael Schirling, the Public Safety Consultant and retired Burlington Chief of Police testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee. He expressed frustration with how marijuana is being framed in this conversation. The marijuana legalization bill, S.241, recently passed in the Senate and is now before the House Judiciary Committee – where it is raising serious concerns about public and highway safety. Schirling explained to the committee that he would advise to hold off on legalization until the federal government rescheduled marijuana so more reliable and extensive research would be available.
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.
(Montpelier)—“If marijuana is legalized, we’re going to put more impaired drivers on the road,” said retired Burlington Chief of Police, Michael Schirling this morning in a crowded committee room of the Vermont House Judiciary. The fervent committee, and equally fervent witnesses, blasted questions, concerns and issues with the bill regarding the legalization of marijuana, S.241. Today the committee heard testimony from a range of advocates, mainly those for highway safety. Facts and statistics about legalization were spewed at the committee, hosting an array of usual suspects: various statistics from Colorado, Washington, and the Netherlands regarding their policy, the outcomes and the impact of legalization on their populations. Of these facts, it is apparent that the main concerns of both the committee and the witnesses are the manner in which roadside testing will be performed, and how the potential bill would affect the black market.