Stuart Savel: In Response to Sen. Jeanette White

Heady Vermont Cannabis Op-Ed
Commentary 29 Mar 2016

In response to Senator White’s legislative update, I agree that marijuana “prohibition has not worked.” Senator White says marijuana “is illegal now, and it will remain so – it will not become more illegal.” But the bill Senator White supports will prohibit a Vermonter not lucky enough to possess a license with draconian penalties. Four plants will put a Vermonter behind bars for three years and demand a $10,000 fine. More than ten plants would punish that Vermonter with five years in prison and a fine of $100,000.

In comparison, in another recent bill, the senate assesses one year in prison for assaulting state employed social workers.

The governor has stated as a condition of passage that the bill must eliminate the black market. Both he and Senator White have been warning of the hardened criminals that operate their mythical black market. In truth what we have in Vermont, and have for many decades, are hundreds of flourishing neighborhood markets. Many Vermonters grow cannabis for themselves. Some sell or barter what they don’t need. The money generated by these local markets is spent locally. This is not new money, it already exists in our communities.

The Rand Report estimates that Vermonters spend $150 to 225 million on cannabis a year. To put those sums into perspective, maple syrup is a $50 million a year industry. Craft beer is $100 million. There is no way to estimate what percentage of marijuana wealth is generated by neighborhood markets but common sense indicates it a very large slice of the Vermont pie.

S.241 would attempt to remove this wealth from our communities and direct it through a state regulated monopoly to a handful of licensees. With a 25% tax on marijuana, these licensees will find themselves in competition with the small growers in every corner of Vermont. They will demand enforcement.

Senator White does not believe the monies gained from taxes on marijuana will be used to prosecute home-growers, yet the summary of the bill from the legislative counsel states: “Revenue generated by the act shall be used to provide for the implementation, administration, and enforcement of the act and to provide additional funding for State efforts on the prevention of substance abuse, treatment of substance abuse, and criminal justice efforts to combat the illegal drug trade and impaired driving. As used in the act, criminal justice efforts shall include efforts by both State and local criminal justice agencies, including law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, and the courts.”

Indeed, it provides for increased criminal prosecution. Senator White’s bill is the opening salvo in a new “War On Drugs” with Vermont home growers in the crosshairs.

I believe we should allow local people to grow small amounts of cannabis, sell it locally and pay taxes. This will create local jobs. There should be no limits on the number of affordable licenses available. The legalization of marijuana represents a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity to build a sustainable, renewable and local economy based on a valuable commodity. It must be an opportunity available to every Vermonter, not just a few well-heeled businessmen.

Senator White asserts that “Other states that have legalized marijuana did not start with home grow; some are doing it now.” Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC. all allowed home grown when they first legalized. The only state that did not was Washington.

In the new bill, there are many pages of changes to the current medical program. The bill guarantees that the newly-for-profit dispensaries (or their subsidiaries) will be the only large producers for at least the first year and the only ones to hold combination grow and retail licenses.

More cruelly, S.241 will make it illegal for medical patients to make Rick Simpson oil for their own use (a life-saving practice that is legal under current law).

Senator White and Governor Shumlin are pushing a bill that transfers $225 million in wealth out of our hardest hit communities and into the hands of a state-blessed oligarchy. By appropriating revenue for an expansion of the police, while at the same time declaring the many Vermonters who grow their own cannabis to be criminals, these misguided public servants are laying the groundwork for a potentially ugly social tragedy.

They say we must pass this bill in this session; that it will be four to six year before we have another chance. I believe we should take our time and craft a good bill that supports our neighbors instead of threatening them. Vermont Cannabis: Heady Vermont Watermark

Stuart Savel lives in Brattleboro.

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