Tag Archives: marijuana legalization

A fascinating endorsement

Well, well. The Burlington Free Press has endorsed David Zuckerman for Lieutenant Governor.

Not that newspaper endorsements are worth the paper they’re largely no longer printed on, but this is the most fascinating one I’ve seen in a while. Zuckerman is arguably the most left-leaning candidate for statewide office we’ve had in a long time with a real shot at winning (sorry, Senator Pollina), and yet the usually conservative Free Press gave him its endorsement without a single mention of Republican Randy Brock.

That’s fascinating thing number one. Number two: when you read the editorial, it’s obvious that this is a bank shot setting up its inevitable endorsement of Phil Scott for Governor.

Number three: the Free Press attempted the rhetorical Triple Lutz of depicting David Zuckerman as a moderating force and a member of that most desirable of political categories, The Real Vermonter.

Sorry about that, Randy.

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The VPR Poll: Pants On Fire, and other observations

Rich Clark was worried about inaccurate results. That’s why he didn’t want to survey Vermonters about their preferences in the August primary.

Okay, but when you look at the results of his VPR Poll, you realize that some of those people are lying their asses off. Which kinda makes the whole accuracy concern seem a bit irrelevant.

The biggest whoppers came when respondents were asked how likely they are to vote. 87 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to vote in November. In actual fact, we’ll be lucky to hit 60.

As for the primary, 68 percent claim to be very or somewhat likely to vote. More than half of those people are lying. The biggest primary turnouts in recent years were 23 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2000, the year of the Great “Take Back Vermont” freakout.

Which makes me wonder. If that many people are lying about that, why should we believe the rest of their answers?

After the jump: analysis of their possibly truthful answers. 

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Sue Minter and the “poorly educated” vote

On the same day that Matt Dunne scored a political trifecta — netting the endorsements of two major unions plus seven members of Burlington City Council — fellow gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter launched a bold initiative that strikes me as great policy and sound politics.

Sue Minter, a Democratic candidate for governor, says her initiative, “Vermont Promise,” would give Vermont high school students the opportunity to attend the Community College of Vermont or Vermont Technical College for free for the first two years. After that, students would be able to continue their schooling for half the current cost of tuition.

Minter unveiled the program on Tuesday, California primary day, and suffered the same undercoverage that befell Dunne’s endorsement news.

Vermont Promise strikes at the heart of a fundamental inequity of living in Vermont: the high cost of college. It’s a strong, clear idea, as opposed to the higher-education incrementalism of the Shumlin years. It would provide a huge boost to working-class Vermont students who’ve had trouble reaching the next rung on the ladder — and to employers who’ve been desperate for trained, or trainable, workers.

Minter pointed out that Vermont has one of the nation’s highest rates of high school graduation, but one of the lowest rates in continuing on to post-secondary education. This is a break point in our education system, a roadblock to success for young people, and a damper on our economy.

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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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Welp, the mouse died.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the marijuana debate entitled “They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse.”

Turned out I was overly optimistic, because the mouse didn’t make it.

No legalization. No grow-your-own. And as for the House’s idea of a study commission (thx to Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, who never would’ve gotten this into the Free Press):

“Fuck the commission,” a frustrated Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said after his effort to create a public advisory vote failed. “The commission was unnecessary.”

Agreed. Especially since the commission would have apparently been funded with money diverted from opioid treatment. Sheesh.

The only good thing about this: the House’s brilliant idea of a new saliva test for buzzed driving also failed. That’s the test with no clear scientific basis, according to a state-sponsored study.

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They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse

Rarely have I felt so ambivalent about being right.

Last Friday, in my inaugural appearance on Vermont PBS’ “Vermont This Week,” host Mark Johnson asked the panel to predict the outcome of the marijuana debate in the House — a big change, a little change, or nothing at all.

The three of us all agreed on “little,” but I put my answer in two-word form: “Study commission.”

Take it away, distinguished lawmakers…

In the end, the chamber barely agreed to create a commission to study legalization. With the legislative session expected to end this week, marijuana legalization supporters conceded they’ve run out of time to try for more.

Hip, hip, hooray. Let’s hear it for representative democracy. The study commission: the Legislature’s favorite decision-avoidance technique.

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Pot’s last stand

Monday’s the big day for marijuana legalization. The House is set to hold votes on two very different versions — so different, it’d be fair to say they are diametrically opposed. And therein lies the problem: the momentum toward legalization has splintered. Governor Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith, who both favor legalization, could pull a rabbit out of a hat — and that’s what it would take: a last-minute snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.

Ironically, one possible outcome of the legalization drive is not any loosening of the law, but instead a crackdown on buzzed driving.

Unlikely, but possible. The most probable scenario is some sort of incremental, unsatisfying move that will provide a fig leaf of political cover for those (starting with Shumlin) who invested heavily in this fight. What might that be? Perhaps a nonbinding statewide referendum. Perhaps, as WCAX’s Kyle Midura said on “Vermont This Week,” some loosening of the state’s medical marijuana law. Perhaps something that’s not even on the table at the moment. Monday could be a long day on the House floor.

There are two major obstacles. First, not enough pro-legalization movement in the House, which was always the most likely killing ground for the idea. Second, the Senate and House took such different approaches that there’s no room for compromise.

The Senate took a top-down approach, establishing a regulated market for marijuana. It specifically rejected a grow-your-own exemption, arguing that it would weaken the broader effort to control the consumption of marijuana.

The House bill that will be considered on the floor Monday is centered on grow-your-own. It would create a licensing process for people who wanted to grow small amounts for personal consumption. Precisely what the Senate didn’t want.

Rarely do I find myself saying this, but I agree with the Senate.

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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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Legalization reconsidered

Constant VPO readers (Hi, Mom!) know that I’ve thought marijuana legalization would fall short of passage. Not that I’m opposed to legalization; I just didn’t think it would happen this year.

Startin’ to change my mind.

There are two factors at play, and neither directly involve the State Senate passing the bill last week.

First, I’ve written that there’s one person who could turn the tide — Governor Shumlin. He supports legalization, but I wondered how actively he would engage on the issue. Well, in the Senate, he was heavily engaged, and probably made the crucial difference. Especially with two of his longtime Senate running buddies, John Campbell and Dick Mazza. Both were opposed to legalization, both are powerful enough to derail any bill they don’t like — and both stepped aside and allowed the process to go forward.

Second, House Speaker Shap Smith has consistently thrown cold water on expectations for the bill. Now, he seems to be opening the door a bit. In an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau, he called the bill “a squeaker,” which is different than calling it a loser. He said “the split that exists in the Senate reflects how people in the House feel.” Well, the Senate just passed the bill.

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