Dave Silberman: An Open Letter to the Members of the Vermont House

Heady Vermont Cannabis Op-Ed
Heady Vermont Staff 30 Apr 2017

Dave Silberman is an attorney and pro bono legalization advocate in Middlebury. This column does not represent the views of any client. You can find him on Twitter at @DaveSilberman.

Dear Members of the House of Representatives:

I am a parent of two school-age children, a resident of Middlebury, and an attorney in active practice for over 15 years. As the end of the Legislative session approaches, I write to ask that you support the common-sense marijuana reform laid out in several bills before you (H.170, H.167 and H.490).

Vermont’s existing marijuana laws have failed in every respect:

     ·      They have failed to reduce use: we have the second-highest per capita rate of marijuana use in the nation, with NIDA estimating that 108,000 Vermonters indulge each year. 

     ·      They have failed to protect children: Our Department of Health reports that nearly 1 in 3 high school seniors are regular (monthly) users, and that 74% of them say marijuana is “easy to get”. 

     ·      They have failed to keep roads safe: Little reliable information is available to marijuana users on what, if any, amount of marijuana is safe to consume before driving, or how long to wait after consuming to get behind the wheel. 

     ·      They have failed to protect consumers: Marijuana sold in Vermont is neither tested for harmful additives, molds, or pesticides, nor labeled for THC content (imagine a bottle of alcoholic beverage sold without a labeled ABV; how would you know how much is safe to consume?).

Our marijuana laws have only succeeded in benefiting criminals: Some $200 million per year is paid to drug dealers who don’t check ID and often are happy to sell much more harmful substances alongside marijuana. 

Worst of all, our marijuana laws have helped perpetuate an unacceptable racial bias, with Vermonters of color being stopped, searched, and ticketed or arrested for marijuana at four times the rate of white Vermonters. Decriminalization in 2014 has, perversely, exacerbated this problem, with citations now being issued at twice the rate that low-level arrests were previously made. 

On the other hand, legalizing possession of personal cultivation of marijuana, and regulating its sale, brings substantial social, public health, and public safety benefits. 

We now know — with great certainty — that safe and legal access to marijuana leads to less consumption of opioids and opiates, and sharp reductions in the harms that come from that: Fewer prescription filled, fewer drugged driving deaths, fewer hospitalizations, and even fewer overdose deaths. We also know that states with the greatest access (whether through a robust system of “medical” dispensaries or through “recreational” stores) see the greatest substitution away from opioids and opiates.

 We know that consumers in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have benefited from being able to purchase marijuana that has been tested for harmful molds and pesticides, and that is accurately labeled and dispensed with safe dosage and impaired driving information. And, given this safer alternative, these consumers have abandoned their criminal drug dealers, putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the states’ coffers instead of cartel pockets.

We also know that these benefits come without offsetting increases in either underage use or impaired driving. While dozens of rigorous studies have been conducted in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, not a single one has found a statistically significant increase in teen use. Impaired driving has not increased in any of these jurisdictions, as the new tax revenues have enabled these states to hire and train more police officers as DRE- and ARIDE-level experts, and launch intensive public education campaigns (also paid for with new marijuana taxes), effectively educating consumers regarding driving under the influence and getting impaired drivers off the roads.

These are, not coincidentally, exactly the traffic safety solutions recommended in recent legislative testimony by VTrans, the VT State Police, the Department of States’ Attorneys and Sheriffs, and the Governor’s Highway Traffic Safety Task Force. 

Vermont’s marijuana laws have failed, and the status quo is actively causing harm. But effective solutions are before you. Your constituents recognize this: poll after poll has shown that nearly 60% of Vermonters support a new approach. It is time to lay aside fear, and decades of propaganda, and instead focus on doing what’s right for Vermonters. Please support the legislation before you. 

Very truly yours,

Dave Silberman, Esq.

Middlebury, Vt.

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