From the outset of the 2016 legislative session, political insiders had a good idea that S.241 would move through the Senate quickly and that the real policy details — and political maneuvering — would be worked out through a deliberative and involved House process. As often happens, they were right. That process got a public boost during a packed public testimony hearing on Thursday night, but the House Judiciary and Government Operations Committees have certainly not been slacking as evidenced by full schedules of expert testimony over the past few weeks.
This week, the Government Operations agenda will include testimony from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Secretary of Agriculture, and a whole bunch of police (with a K9 training expert in on Wednesday morning). Meanwhile, the Judiciary committee agenda shows more testimony from police, school administrators and and additional blocked out for committee discussions. Will the free study and discussion time result in major or minor amendments to S.241? Stay tuned…
Libertarians Lobby for Home Cultivation
In addition to the strong support for home cultivation voiced at the Thursday hearing, home cultivation advocates picked up some buzz from an unexpected source on the right. Libertarians don’t always agree on much — like who’s the most Liberty-lovin’ and who’s a “real” Libertarian — but the Vermont Libertarian Party clearly voiced their support for allowing home cultivation of cannabis. In the press release, Vermont Libertarian Party Vice Chair Bonnie Scott said:
“Let’s do cannabis legalization right. Let’s do it ‘The Vermont Way’ that we were told would happen.”
“Let’s do cannabis legalization right. Let’s do it ‘The Vermont Way’ that we were told would happen. That includes home growing. The plant-based growing provisions in S.95 would be a decent compromise if the legislature isn’t comfortable with the 100 square feet of garden per household allowed by the original Benning/White bill.”
Saturday was a big day for Vermont Libertarians, who held a small party convention during the day at the Fletcher Free Library. The event featured Libertarian Presidential Candidate Daryl Perry — who supports legalizing all drugs — and plenty of interest in how home cultivation of marijuana might end up back in the S.241 discussion, including a speech by Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project.
John Cisar, an Essex resident who has previously run for state representative and who started a change.org petition supporting legalization that currently has over 800 signatures, attended and said that Simon mostly discussed the evolution of the bill and the process. Cisar said that he wants to see progress and appreciated Simon’s personal presence at the small gathering, and also hopes that if S.241 passes, updates for allowing home cultivation can be enacted quicker than have happened with the state’s medical marijuana program.
Later in the evening, the Republican Liberty Caucus met in Burlington to talk more about questions of liberty and the future of Libertarian ideals in Vermont. The event was organized by Rep. Paul Dame (R-Essex Junction) and also featured Rep. Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland). Neither touched on the question of home grow during their speeches, but it was addressed by the keynote speaker, Julie Borowski, a political commenter and Youtube video producer (with over 74,000 subscribers). She’s far from a stoner, but has made several videos supporting legalization of marijuana as a question of personal liberty.
As a young woman using digital media to deliver conservative and Libertarian messages, Borowski is exactly the kind of influencer that the right wants to reach. Many of the questions from the audience earnestly wondered how to tap into the #FeelTheBern movement and find common ground with Millennial voters who want to change the status quo, but who Borowski and other ‘liberty-loving’ conservatives see as in agreement, but just drinking the wrong flavor of kool-aid. As the Washington Times noted, a recent Monmouth poll featuring Libertarian candidate and former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, showed Johnson garnering double digit support. Johnson has long been known as a champion of marijuana reform, and many wonder if the increasing support for marijuana legalization could be the issue that helps Libertarians find more friends and supporters at the local, state and national levels.
Driving the Debate
As Elizabeth Hewitt of VTDigger reported last week, the House Committee on Transportation is looking at possible roadside saliva testing. Chairman Pat Brennan (R-Colchester) admitted that the pot debate sparked him to action, but opponents are rightly concerned about both the lack of standardization for determining what is “impairment” when it comes to substances and individual reactions.
As impairment from marijuana is much more subjective (body fat, experience, empty stomach) than alcohol, the quantification of determining “too high to drive” is a tough issue for regulators who can’t simply apply the alcohol BAC model to cannabis. Also, because THC remains in the bloodstream long after the actual high wears off, and because it accumulates in the blood stream of regular tokers (including medical patients), pot advocates and civil liberties experts argue that a same THC reading in the blood/saliva of two different individuals could indicate drastically different levels of actual impairment.
“The 5 ng/ml was just sort of thrown out there as a number, it really has no scientific basis … Washington State just picked five. I kind of wish we didn’t have it.”
That question of a numerical limit of impairment came up during the March 24 testimony of Dr. Fiona Couper, the head of the Washington State Police Forensic Lab (see the documents she shared here). An unpopular feature of the Washington law is the use of a 5 nanogram (of THC) -milliliter (of blood) measurement to determine driving impairment. During her expert testimony, Dr. Couper surprised many by actually recommending Vermont not enact a “per-se” number to determine impairment:
“The 5 ng/ml was just sort of thrown out there as a number, it really has no scientific basis and I realize some states want a number and Washington State just picked five. I kind of wish we didn’t have it,” said Dr. Couper.