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Cannabis Commission Updated Consensus

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John Young 30 Jul 2018

Despite ending prohibition on cannabis, Governor Phil Scott said he’d veto any further legislation that did not address his concerns regarding health and highway safety in Vermont.

This pronouncement, despite that, according to a poll conducted by Vermont Public Radio (VPR) and Vermont Public Television (VPT), the majority of Vermonters (56% according to the July 2018 poll) support retail sale of cannabis in Vermont moving forward.

The Vermont Department of Health is working on distributing information regarding cannabis consumption and safety. The department has been collecting data and research from 22 states, Washington D.C., and Canada that have either decriminalized cannabis, made it medicinal, or passed recreational usage.

“Most of the material, obviously, came from those states that had preceded Vermont with variations of legislation regarding legalization which would be Colorado and Washington primarily,” said Joe Flynn, of the Governor Scott-created Marijuana Commission’s roadway safety subcommittee.

The findings come from three subcommittees, each with their own area of focus, that are under the guidance of Governor Phil Scott’s Marijuana Commission. The subcommittees are split into education and prevention, roadway safety, and taxation and regulation.

“We’re not ready, I don’t believe, for a tax and regulate system at this point in time. I believe we need to do more work in terms of addressing impairment on our highways not just from pot, but from all different types of substances whether it’s alcohol, or prescription drugs, or pot, or a combination of the three. We also need more education, we need to prepare ourselves and educate our youth about the adverse effects of too much of any substance.” – Gov. Phil Scott

The Marijuana Commission’s education and prevention subcommittee has been gathering statistics on cannabis consumers from prior years surveys and studies. Surveys find increases in hospital activity due to cannabis, and decreases in Vermont high school consumption, lower academic achievement, as well as various other conclusions. Moreover, the studies track medical changes of patients on a case by case basis.

The Marijuana Commission roadway safety subcommittee tracks government service changes in specific instances of motor vehicle crashes. They are also deciding what threshold to set cannabis levels of impairment at and how to measure for those levels. Additionally the subcommittee follows rises in law enforcement reporting of certain crimes.

The Marijuana Commission taxation and regulation subcommittee is listening to other states and countries that have changed their cannabis laws, trying to determine what works and what doesn’t. State officials communicating with researchers, legislators, data specialists, and other professionals are attempting to come up with the most successful model for Vermont.

Ultimately the three subcommittees will inform Gov. Scott on how to approach cannabis policy in the upcoming legislative session.

Mental and Physical Health

In 2016, the Department of Health found cannabis to be associated with behaviors of psychosis and psychotic behavior. This includes depression, anxiety, brain function, and schizophrenia.

Dr. Levine said the best methods of prevention for underage Vermonters are not selling cannabis near schools and playgrounds, abiding by the same laws cigarette companies must, developing and deploying effective messaging campaigns that respect the intelligence of their target audience (Vermont young people), and making sure edible packaging doesn’t appeal to Vermont’s children.

“When I was practicing medicine I had a number of patients who clearly correlate use of cannabis and a psychotic episode,” said Dr. Mark Levine, head of the education and prevention subcommittee. “It’s not like everyone is going to have that outcome.”

It also found cannabis to increase the chances of heart attacks and strokes. And although it made short term air flow better, in the long term it made air flow worse.

On the positive side, Vermont’s Department of Health found evidence that cannabis helps alleviate symptoms associated with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple-sclerosis, severe and chronic pain, and nausea.

The education and prevention subcommittee discovered a 102 percent increase in Vermont Emergency Department visits, and a 72 percent increase of inpatient visits, both due to cannabis between 2011 and 2015. Though, as covered in their last meeting on July 20, some of these numbers could be misleading due to patient admittance of prior cannabis use being associated with a later hospitalization.

The subcommittee also surmised that as cannabis consumption increased among individuals, the likelihood of dependence increased, with roughly 20 percent of the market accounting for 80 percent of the consumption.

Dr. Levine said the best methods of prevention for underage Vermonters are not selling cannabis near schools and playgrounds, abiding by the same laws cigarette companies must, developing and deploying effective messaging campaigns that respect the intelligence of their target audience (Vermont young people), and making sure edible packaging doesn’t appeal to Vermont’s children.

Policing and Roadway Safety

The states that have legalized or decriminalized have taken different approaches in policing roads for cannabis. Eight states have prohibited any amount of drug or metabolite in a person’s system. Six states have prohibited any amount of illegal drug. Three states have outlawed any amount of schedule one narcotic, other than cannabis. Colorado, Illinois, Montana, and Washington have set a five nanogram threshold for cannabis.

The roadway safety subcommittee estimated that 20-30 percent of motor vehicle crashes involving cannabis occurred directly because of cannabis use. If cannabis is combined with alcohol the chances of a crash occurring increases by more than fivefold.

Although Colorado saw increases in motor vehicle fatalities after legalization, the subcommittee referenced a study of Colorado and Washington that didn’t find a statistically significant increase in motor vehicle crash fatalities from those in similar states without legalization.

In 2016, Vermont saw 62 motor vehicle fatalities, of these 16 were attributed to cannabis, at the least, while 26 were deemed to have occurred at least because of alcohol.

The states that have legalized or decriminalized have taken different approaches in policing roads for cannabis. Eight states have prohibited any amount of drug or metabolite in a person’s system. Six states have prohibited any amount of illegal drug. Three states have outlawed any amount of schedule one narcotic, other than cannabis. Colorado, Illinois, Montana, and Washington have set a five nanogram threshold for cannabis.

Additionally the subcommittee found that between 2012 and 2014, Colorado saw increases in property crime, juvenile cannabis arrests, and postal service package seizures. But during that same period, Colorado saw a decrease of about 20,000 less plants seized.

While Colorado saw a low of eight public cannabis consumption arrests in 2012, that increased to 590 arrests in 2016.

No Market Until Concerns Addressed

The taxation and regulation subcommittee has been examining the effects of states that have legalized. Looking at what works and doesn’t, licensing options, unforeseen loopholes, how the black market is responding, and what the best approach for Vermont would be.

But during a GOP forum held July 25, Gov. Scott said he would not support any tax and regulate bill that did not address health and roadway concerns.

“We’re not ready, I don’t believe, for a tax and regulate system at this point in time. I believe we need to do more work in terms of addressing impairment on our highways not just from pot, but from all different types of substances whether it’s alcohol, or prescription drugs, or pot, or a combination of the three. We also need more education, we need to prepare ourselves and educate our youth about the adverse effects of too much of any substance,” said Gov. Scott.

Gov. Scott voiced concerns when he decided to veto Bill S.22, but Act 86 seems to do little to address the issues he brought up in his veto message.

Cary Giguere, of the taxation and regulation subcommittee, said, “I do think it’s the way the state is headed and should go, and do support the infrastructure around the tax and regulate system.”

Candidate Keith Stern said he was also opposed to a taxed and regulated cannabis market, but Democratic opponent James Ehlers has stated that he would support some form of a tax and regulate system.

 

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