Gov’s Marijuana Advisory Commission releases report

Heady Vermont Staff 17 Jan 2018

The governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission released its initial report Tuesday without taking a stand on whether cannabis should be legal or regulated by the state.

That’s likely to disappoint advocates on both sides of the legalization debate who were hoping the commission’s report would boost their position.

The ponderous 27-page report does make specific recommendations on steps Vermont should take, regardless of legal reforms, to address existing marijuana use in the state, which it says will continue to have value as legalization moves forward. A final report is due in December.

As stated in the report: “…while legalization will inevitably have effects on usage rates and frequency among all demographic groups, many of the issues that must be addressed as a consequence of cannabis production and use exist regardless of whether adult consumption is legally permitted.”

The authors acknowledge that “no firm estimates on increases in use as a result of changes in the laws prohibiting cannabis…can be reliably formulated,” though they go on to speculate that, based on “common sense and logic,” legalization will increase use.

The commission’s recommendations are largely sensible and uncontroversial, including gathering baseline data on cannabis use in Vermont and its public impact, in order to measure changes post-legalization. The report suggests Vermont follow an analytics approach pioneered by Colorado.

It also calls for a Health Department-led education campaign emphasizing the dangers of youth cannabis use and cannabis-impaired driving, especially when it’s combined with alcohol or other drugs.

The commission says developing such a campaign would take the Health Department 12 to 18 months and suggests that the campaign should be in place prior to legalization, which it almost certainly won’t.

With the passage of H.511, an adult use and home grow bill, and Gov. Phil Scott’s public pledge to allow it to become law, it appears the Health Department will be playing catch-up. Still, there’s no doubt it would make sense to start preparing public health messaging around legalization now, instead of waiting for the laws to change.

Finally, the report notes that while reliable roadside saliva testing exists for THC, it’s not a good way to measure intoxication.

“There is no formula that can be broadly applied to equate THC levels with individual intoxication…and the (sic) affects of similar amounts of THC will vary widely among individuals,” the report states, adding that, “the science has not developed to the point where reliable metrics can be employed to determine per se levels of intoxication based on detectable THC levels.”

Nonetheless, the commission wants Vermont to “pass legislation that enables law enforcement to conduct roadside oral fluid screening tests and task the Commissioner of Public Safety to adopt rules” for their use.

The purpose being to allow law enforcement to establish the presence of THC, whether or not they’re able to use that information to establish impairment.

So, what does the commission recommend when it comes to establishing impairment? A new commission to settle the issue, or “a non-Legislative body with rulemaking authority” to “determine whether and when a reasonable and scientifically reliable per se (THC) limit can be adopted.”

The idea of a commission calling for a new commission to further investigate a question it was tasked with tackling was quickly panned on social media. Longtime cannabis reform advocate Tom Agnell, founder of Marijuana Majority, channeled the rapper Xzibit to voice his derision.

Others joined in the fun.

Including Seven Days columnist John Walters.

Given the unreliability of saliva testing to determine impairment, it’s an open question as to whether further study, that may or may not lead to implementation, is really the best use of Vermont’s resources until the science improves.

As legalization advocate Dave Silberman noted, there is already a proven method for determining when a driver is impaired by cannabis.

The commission report notes that Vermont has sufficient Drug Recognition Experts, those conducting sobriety tests for substances other than alcohol, to meet current demand. However, if legalization causes a bump in impairment, or perceived impairment, more DREs may be required.

If that’s the case, hiring more DREs is probably a better use of resources than setting up a THC saliva testing regime based on the hope that the science will eventually make it useful.

Either way, moving to a taxed and regulated recreational cannabis market in Vermont would help the state pay for more DREs and its nascent saliva testing ambitions – not to mention the education and prevention campaigns the commission is recommending.

As Silberman notes, and the commission readily acknowledges, the road safety issues already exist.



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