In an editorial around this very time last year, I argued that Vermont’s own advocates were the cause of S.241’s painful death on the Senate floor. The circumstances are somewhat different this time around, but nevertheless have left me with a nagging sense of déjà vu; a feeling that we may, yet again, have failed to keep our eye on the ball. Why? Because, in spite of appearances, many of us are still looking out for Number One first, and the collective Vermont voice as a distant second priority. And all the while that we carry on, a well-coordinated opposition works tirelessly to spread fear-mongering propaganda, reminiscent of Nixon and Reagan-era drug policies, amongst our lawmakers and our citizens.
Just last week, Mariah Sanderson of SAM-VT published an editorial in Vermont Digger, whose rhetoric contained vague and unsettling echoes of Drug War politicking. “There is a well-known link between marijuana and opiates,” claimed Sanderson. What she neglected to mention is the gross over-prescription of opiates driven by pharmaceutical lobbying, which has caused the heroin epidemic to magnify into Herculean proportions of a scale beyond that which Nixon even could have imagined.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The scariest thing about fear-mongering rhetoric? It works. Vermont parents already struggle to put food on their tables and keep their children safe. Just the other day, Essex schools went on lockdown when a caller phoned in a bomb threat. My good friend, an Essex parent of two teenaged children, cried when she finally had her children home safe in her arms. In an uncertain political era full of frightening headlines, it’s all too easy for detractors to paint marijuana as the gateway drug lurking in alleyways and on street corners.
The plain and simple fact is that regulating cannabis will make our children safer. Attorney and advocate Dave Silberman noted in an op-ed last year that over 75 percent of our high school seniors view marijuana as “easy to get” – compared to just half of adults over the age of 35, statistics drawn from a comprehensive Department of Health survey. “After nearly a century of doubled-down prohibition policies, of vilifying marijuana and locking users up in jail for non-violent, victimless offenses, marijuana is ubiquitously available to our kids,” Silberman wrote. “More easily available to kids, in fact, than to adults.”
Social worker Steve May, in a Vermont Digger op-ed last week, echoed these sentiments and further elaborated: “With a black market you have no idea about the origins of the product … By comparison, the bottle of hand sanitizer in my office is required to list its ingredients by the government,” he noted. In adult-use states, it’s clear that regulation helps to suppress the black market, creates a system that holds producers accountable and reduces the amount of dealers selling questionable substances to teenagers.
In an uncertain political era full of frightening headlines, it’s all too easy for detractors to paint marijuana as the gateway drug lurking in alleyways and on street corners.
In a tiny state where 10 to 20 well-coordinated phone calls can make a significant difference, it both flabbergasts and astounds when we fail to meet the mark. Today I make two main arguments: Firstly, that in spite of improvements, we need to do better in pushing forth a coordinated advocacy agenda. Advocates who stepped up to the plate in now-legal states are the first to launch successful businesses in the new cannabis economies they helped create. Second, to those who fear the implications of taxed and regulated cannabis, everything is going to be okay. The sky will not fall, the children will be safe, and the Green Mountain State will be a better place for it.
While Vermont struggles to pass the incremental and very reasonable H.170, Massachusetts is projecting $64 million in legal cannabis revenues for their first year of regulated cannabis. Tired of waiting for Vermont to catch up, skilled growers and other young, employable folk are leaving our state in droves for greener pastures in Maine, Colorado and California. Canada has introduced legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana. We’re surrounded on all sides by progressive neighbors championing the kind of common-sense reform that Vermont should be taking the lead on. “To ignore the good that a regulated market could do for Vermont is downright irresponsible,” said medical patient and entrepreneur Will Read in his recent legislative testimony. He’s right — and in this scenario, Vermont is already losing.
H.170 is, by most measures, an incredibly conservative bill. It would allow Vermonters to possess and grow very small amounts of marijuana for their own use. At its heart, it is a simple criminal justice reform bill that enables people to use cannabis without worrying about going to jail.
S.16, the medical marijuana reform bill, aims to improve Vermont’s previously D-rated MMJ system. I support adding new dispensary licenses, and creating open competition for those licenses, which will result in more choices for medical marijuana patients seeking treatment for their conditions.
H.170 and S.16 are incremental steps that will push Vermont forward in a progressive and forward-thinking direction. I encourage everyone who supports common-sense reform to call the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office at 828-2228, and leave a message to be hand-delivered to your representative. Vermont is a state where sensibility trumps fear-mongering — now let’s show that to our legislators.
Monica Donovan is the publisher of Heady Vermont.