A watershed moment for legalization in Vermont

This year, the state legislature did its best to tippy-toe around the issue of marijuana legalization. We heard the usual excuses — the time is not right, it needs more study, we’ve got too much else on our plate — and ended with an expensive consultant’s report sitting on a shelf.

Since then, two rather dramatic things have happened. Two weeks ago, Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito called for the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of personal use of other drugs.

I always knew that guy was a hippie! (Photo from his Facebook page.)

I always knew that guy was a hippie! (Photo from his Facebook page.)

And now, we have a pro-legalization essay by the top Republican in the State Senate, Joe Benning. His piece, posted today on VTDigger, said legalization is inevitable, that marijuana is a useful and “widely popular consumer product,” that legalization would result in “a safer product,” and — here comes the Republican part — it would create “a legitimate, properly regulated industry [that] can only lead to more real, good-paying jobs.”

Well.

Sen. Benning can’t swing the vote on his own since his caucus numbers a mere nine*. The next step in marijuana law is up to the many Weebles in the Democratic majority, who’ve been painfully hesitant on the issue.

*Originally I wrote “seven,” but the good Senator corrected me. Must have stumbled upon outdated numbers in my expert Googling.

But I’d think that Benning’s advocacy would give them an opening to advance legalization. Democrats tend to be thoroughly spooked by the threat of Republican counterattacks on crime issues. And although Benning is only one Republican, he’s a very influential one. His stand ought to inoculate Democrats from GOP attacks.

It’s hard not to see this as a big step toward the death of the costly and ineffective War On Drugs, or at least the death of its most ineffective component, the war on Weed.

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