A lot of lawmakers are throwing stones at the idea of legalizing marijuana in Vermont this year. A lot of influential lawmakers. The latest, and perhaps most dispiriting: the brontosaurus of the State Senate, “Democrat” Dick Mazza. He’s chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, which is one of the committees that would have to pass the bill, because reasons. In an interview to be broadcast this Sunday on WCAX-TV, he sent loud signals that he’s prepared to put the kibosh on the idea. Bottom line?
… I say let’s not hurry it. I don’t think a year or two will make a difference, but let’s answer all these questions with our eyes wide-open.”
In addition to that cheery comment, he also argued that public-safety funding needs a boost before making pot legal. His reasoning:
“Public safety always has some sort of shortfall. The reason they do is because we are asking public safety to do more, more and more. There are a lot more crimes in Vermont, so before you burden them with a service, let’s make sure that they are fully funded on their existing services that they are providing today.”
Not sure what he means by “burden them with a service.” I could infer that he expects more trouble for the police if marijuana is legal. This is a common sentiment among law enforcement types and lawmakers looking for reasons to vote “No,” but the evidence is decidedly mixed, where evidence exists at all.
Quite a lot of Vermonters are already smoking weed. Would we experience a mushrooming of demand from already-high levels, or are we close to market saturation?
Early evidence from legalization pioneers Colorado and Washington doesn’t provide much clarity. Colorado experienced a spike in consumption among adults, but no growth among teens. The Drug Policy Network says Colorado has seen a drop in crime rates, especially in categories like burglaries and robberies — crimes often committed to get money for drugs. Also, obviously, the cops wouldn’t have to spend their time enforcing marijuana prohibition. That oughta free up some time.
So there are signs that the cops’ workload would actually drop if pot were legalized. There is no evidence to suggest that they will have more work to do. But Dick Mazza is doing what Dick Mazza does: put up roadblocks against ideas he doesn’t like. More often than not, he gets his way.
Other naysayers trot out other arguments. How do police deal with stoned drivers as well as drunk ones? How do we keep pot out of the hands of kids? What about signs that pot use impacts brain development? Anti-marijuana lobbyist Keith Ellis says “marijuana ruins lives.” And here’s a priceless contribution to the annals of public policy debate: House Judiciary chair Maxine Grad told Seven Days:
“I’m not clear about why we are doing this,” Grad said of legalization. “I have a lot of questions.”
A touch of willful ignorance, hmm?
Not that Representative Grad is paying attention to Ye Olde VPO, but I’ll tell you “why we are doing this.”
Because prohibition hasn’t worked. Because while marijuana carries some health risks, it’s far safer than alcohol. Which ruins far more lives than pot ever will. Because it’s better to bring marijuana use out into the open than to ignore it or cover it up. Because legalization will give the state some measure of control and regulatory oversight.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned tax revenue, because I don’t think that should be a factor in the debate. We should decide the issue on its merits.
Governor Shumlin has listed five preconditions for his support, and they are quite reasonable. A bill can be crafted that would assuage the skeptics’ stated concerns; but I have a feeling that more and more objections will be brought up until the bill is dead or the clock runs out on the 2016 session.
I’m not convinced by the naysayers. I say it’s time to legalize with reasonable caveats. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.