Progressive Legislators Lead the Charge on Marijuana Legalization

~by Michael Gallagher

On February 18, 2015 Progressive Sen. David Zuckerman introduced S. 95 (“An Act Relating to Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana”) to the Senate Committee on Judiciary. The proposed bill would legalize limited amounts of marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, as well as establishing regulations regarding cultivation, distribution, and taxation of marijuana.  Marijuana, under this proposed bill, would be legal to possess and available for sale to people over the age of 21. 

The limits of marijuana possession for residents would be two mature plants, seven immature plants, one ounce of marijuana, and “any additional marijuana produced by the person’s marijuana plants, provided that any amount of marijuana in excess of one ounce of marijuana must be possessed in the same secure indoor facility where the plants were cultivated”.  For non-residents it would be no more than one quarter of an ounce of marijuana. 

In addition to legalizing marijuana, this proposed law hopes to increase tax revenue which can support drug abuse prevention, education, treatment, and law enforcement efforts against the illegal drug trade. It also would increase the state’s control over distribution to prevent the use of marijuana by persons under 21, and hopefully this involvement will prevent many of the negative aspects of illegal marijuana sales, such as revenue from marijuana sales going to criminal activity, violence in the distribution and cultivation of marijuana, and driving under the influence.

The idea is that marijuana should be treated similarly to alcohol, with abuse of both being treated as a health matter, and irresponsible use leading to the harming of others being sanctioned with penalties.  The regulation and enforcement of these new laws would be administered by a state run board, the Marijuana Control Board, which would appoint a director to run the day to day operations. The hope with this bill is that legalization will reduce crime, create more revenue, and ultimately reduce the overall health risks associated with marijuana.  

Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), introduced a companion bill in the House to legalize marijuana. And in April 2015, Rep. Pearson introduced H.502-- a tongue-in-cheek bill proposing Vermont ban alcoholic beverages until marijuana is made legal. Rep. Pearson said that continued prohibition of marijuana makes about as much sense as outlawing alcohol, and that if you look at the figures, alcohol-related deaths far exceed marijuana-related deaths. The following exceprt is from a statement by Rep. Pearson about the legislation: 

"National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that alcohol use is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes in the United States, including 37 percent of rapes and 27 percent of aggravated assaults.

No such association has been found among marijuana users.

Binge drinking accounted for about half of the more than 80,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The economic costs associated with excessive alcohol consumption in the United States were estimated to be about $225 billion.

More than 17 percent of all people in the United States are binge drinkers, and more than 28 percent of people age 18 to 24.

Marijuana, on the other hand, kills almost no one. The number of deaths attributed to marijuana use is pretty much zero according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Dangers associated with driving are obviously a concern to everyone in the legislature and beyond. Marijuana use increased odds of a fatal crash by 83%. Alcohol use increases the odds by 575% says the Accident Analysis & Prevention journal.

Risks of being hurt by others: A 2014 study associated lower incidents of violence within the first 9 years of marriage among marijuana users compared to non-users. By comparison, annually US college students report over 450,000 incidents of alcohol-related violence.

Use leads to substance abuse - National Institute of Health in 2010 found 9% of pot users become dependent, 23% of alcohol users do.

We often think of alcohol and marijuana use as associated with the college experience. My kids are young but when the time comes, this will be on my mind. Every year more than 1,800 American college students die from alcohol-related accidents. About 600,000 are injured while under alcohol’s influence, almost 700,000 are assaulted, and almost 100,000 are sexually assaulted. About 400,000 have unprotected sex, and 100,000 are too drunk to know if they consented. The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league.

It’s time we have a robust debate about the wisdom of taxing and regulating marijuana. It is estimated that at least 80,000 Vermonters have used marijuana in the last month. This is not a rare or exotic substance for Vermonters. We need to bring use out of the shadows. We need to admit the war on drugs has been an abysmal failure.

Whereas prohibiting sale and possession of alcohol is a laughable suggestion, the common-sense reaction against the idea should be the same logic we use to consider the continued prohibition of marijuana. Keeping marijuana illegal is a poor, unfounded policy. It is a hang over from the war on drugs and deserves a full debate.

It is now my pleasure to introduce the co-sponsor who will discuss some of the economic impacts of treating marijuana like we treat alcohol."