Category Archives: justice and corrections

Lipsticking the Pig, pot-enforcement division

My Sunday Times Argus brought the cheery news that the American Automobile Association, well-known haven for hippies and pot-smokers, had released a report throwing shade on saliva testing for detecting marijuana-impaired drivers.

You may recall that the Legislature came verrry close to enacting a law that relied on spit tests, even though a report commissioned by the state questioned their efficacy.

The AAA report’s conclusion: “There is no scientific way to prove if someone is under the influence of [marijuana] while driving.”

The spit test indicates the pressence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in a driver’s system. The problem is the lack of a clear relationship between the quantity of THC and a driver’s level of impairment. Some drivers are just fine with a hefty dose of THC, and some are iffy with very low levels.

Of particular importance: those who use marijuana medicinally are likely to have high levels of THC in their systems, but still be just fine behind the wheel.

This isn’t good news for Vermont’s law enforcement community, which staunchly defends the spit test. So now comes Greg Nagurney, Vermont’s traffic safety resource officer, to cover that pig with lipstick.

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Are Vermont police profiting from marijuana enforcement?

About a week ago, the Burlington Free Press’ Jess Aloe produced a thought-provoking number on the many police officers who testified — and lobbied — in their uniforms during this year’s debate on legalizing marijuana. Today, there’s a report from The Intercept that may shed some light on the situation. It certainly raises some questions, at the very least.

First, the Freeploid.

Uniformed police officers often make their opinions heard through the Vermont Police Association, which pays a lobbyist, or other police associations, but they also speak to legislators directly, wearing the uniforms of communities that may have yet to take an official stance on an issue.

… “There have been more police here as lobbyists this year, and I think it’s unusual,” [the Vermont ACLU’s Allen Gilbert] said. “The lobbying seems much more active — it’s much more organized.”

And now, The Intercept reports that police and prison guard groups are spending heavily to defeat a California ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, and draws a line between that activity and “the revenue streams to which they have become… addicted.”

Drug war money has become a notable source of funding for law enforcement interests. Huge government grants and asset-seizure windfalls benefit police departments, while the constant supply of prisoners keeps the prison business booming.

Do I need to connect the dots?

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Good Ol’ Norm: The gift that keeps on giving

The news arrived on Friday and got buried under the end-of-session avalanche: State Senator-In-Waiting Norm McAllister will face two separate trials on multiple sex-crime charges. Trial was slated to begin today, but the first of the two proceedings has been postponed until June 15. That’s the one regarding McAllister’s former “assistant,” which will feature testimony from McAllister’s legislative colleagues. That’ll be a real get-your-popcorn moment. (The second trial has yet to be scheduled.)

But that wasn’t the most interesting point.

No, the most interesting point is that McAllister is actively mulling a run for re-election. He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, “I probably will file anyway. I can always change my mind and decide not to run later.”

No surprise to me. I’ve been saying all along that there’s nothing to stop McAllister from seeking re-election. Indeed, there’s nothing in state law to bar him from returning to the Senate if he wins in November — even if he’s convicted and facing prison time. The Senate does have authority to determine if someone is fit to join their august body, and it wouldn’t be hard to exclude him — if, indeed, he is convicted. If he’s acquitted, on the other hand, the Senate would be hard-pressed to banish him. He’d make everyone horribly uncomfortable, but that doesn’t constitute grounds for exclusion.

In Other News, the Republican Slimy Lies Committee — er, sorry, Republican State Leadership Committee — is back with a despicable ad targeting legislative Democrats.

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A bad session for Shumlin, but all was not lost

The media postmortems on Legislature ’16 are rolling in, and they’re not kind to Governor Shumlin.

The Burlington Free Press’ Sunday front page has a big ol’ photo of the Guv looking nonplussed, the bright lights showcasing the furrows on his brow, with a headline reading “BIG REQUESTS FALL SHORT.” The story emphasizes his pushes for legalized marijuana and divestment from some fossil fuel stocks, which both fell short.

Over at VTDigger, the headline slyly referred to Shumlin’s legislative accomplishments as “nothing burgers,” a phrase destined for his headstone. The story, by ol’ buddy Mark Johnson, was just shy of devastating.

While the governor touted numerous accomplishments in his final late-night adjournment address — and some lawmakers did too — many who serve in the Legislature saw something different this session: a once powerful chief executive weakened by a close election, who lost support on the left when he dropped plans for a single-payer health care system, was hurt by ongoing problems with the health care exchange and then saw any remaining leverage dissipate when he announced last year that he would not seek re-election.

Indeed, Shumlin’s 2016 agenda was largely jettisoned by lawmakers. But there is another way to look at the just-concluded session. It accomplished quite a few things that went almost unnoticed in Vermont, but would have been big news almost anywhere else.

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Two steps back for legalized pot

Well, a pair of House committees got out their carving knives and turned S.241, the marijuana-legalization bill, into an unrecognizable mess.

This is a significant setback for legalization. The best hope is that the House passes the bill and then a House/Senate conference committee comes down firmly on the Senate’s side. After that, perhaps the bill could pass muster in the full House. But the outlook is definitely worse than it was a couple days ago.

Earlier this week, House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad proposed, well, a Bizarro World version of S.241. She slashed out the legalization stuff, opting instead for a mild extension of decriminalization that would allow for personal cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. That idea was specifically rejected by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, the primary gatekeeper on the Senate side.

Oh, and she also attached the House’s favorite Action Evasion Tactic — a study commission! Yay!

That was bad enough. But even that bill couldn’t pass the full committee. After Grad’s version failed on a 5-6 vote, the grow-your-own provision got the ax. The study commission, naturally, was spared. The bill also creates a penalty for driving under the influence if a driver has a BAC of 0.05 or higher PLUS any trace of psychoactive chemicals in their system, plus a new crime of making hash oil from marijuana.

VTDigger’s headline calls it a “hollowed-out pot bill,” and that’s pretty much dead on.

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Moral panic from the Guardians of the Peace

Some of Vermont’s top cops made their way to the Statehouse yesterday to try to derail
the marijuana-legalization train. Their input is certainly worth considering, but they kinda made a hash of it.

Their reasoning, in short:

— Eliminating the marijuana law will create substantially more work for law enforcement.

— Police don’t really enforce marijuana laws now, but legalization will trigger a cascade of problems.

— Law enforcement’s top priority is opioids, and legalizing marijuana will somehow compromise that effort.

Makes my head spin. Without a single toke, even.

The top cops’ bottom line: If you legalize pot, you’d better give us more money.

Pardon me if I don’t see the connection.

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“Lock ‘em Up” Lauzon

The mayor of Barre is not known for keeping a cool head. Thom Lauzon once tossed the city manager’s cellphone across the room when it rang during a City Council meeting. Then there was the time a guy in a Santa suit threw a pie in then-Gov. Jim Douglas’ face; Lauzon ran him down and engaged in fisticuffs with the perp.

Oh, and he once chased down a hit-and-run driver, stepping in front of the vehicle to get the driver to stop. Guess how the driver reacted? Fortunately, Lauzon received only minor injuries on that one.

He has, to be fair, done a lot of good stuff as well. He is truly passionate about his city, beyond his own self-interest as an investor in downtown real estate. Although he’s a conservative Republican, he hasn’t shied away from using government resources whenever possible to help pull the city out of its decades-long funk. And he’s made substantial progress. It’s just that his passion sometimes gets a little unhinged.

Now, he seems to be channeling the ghost of Nancy Reagan. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson:

Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon laid down the hammer on opiate dealers Thursday, saying anyone caught selling should receive an automatic 50-year jail sentence.

… Lauzon said he supports treatment programs and wants to see them expanded even further. But he said a greater deterrence is needed to stop people from selling, which he said would cut the supply.

…Lauzon said his proposal would apply to any amount sold, even small amounts. The only exception, he said, should be if an addict requests treatment, is turned away and then sells to maintain his habit.

Let’s pause for a moment and understand a couple of things. Lauzon loves his city. He has seen the effects of the drug trade. Barre is also weighed down by the fact that a fair number of parolees and ex-inmates end up living there — and sometimes re-offending.

Fair enough. But a fifty-year automatic sentence for selling any amount of drugs?

Batshit crazy.

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