From question to consideration: legalization of marijuana in Vermont

Design by Ali Leach
Design by Ali Leach

Elizabeth Saward
UVM student & political correspondent

The Vermont Senate Finance Committee voted 6-1 to approve a bill that would legalize marijuana and create a regulated and taxed system for its production and sale. But this bill is still a work in progress, and will continue to move through the committee process.

As the debate over the legalization of marijuana looms across the state, several key happenings have made Vermont legislators seriously consider the effects of the legalization of marijuana. Governor Shumlin recently highlighted several important ideas to keep in mind when thinking about legalizing recreational marijuana use in Vermont.

On January 26th, in his State of the State address, Shumlin announced a draft bill he created alongside Sen. Dick Sears that moves to aid in eliminating the black market for marijuana. Shumlin explained that nearly one in eight, or 80,000 Vermonters reported to use marijuana on a monthly basis. However, because recreational marijuana use is illegal in Vermont, many key problems such as prevention, driving under the influence and keeping the drugs out of the hands of minors cannot be discussed. To support this argument Shumlin pointed to the illegal sellers of the drug today who have little to no concern for what type of drug they are selling, who they are selling to, and whether or not they pay taxes on their earnings. In order to put an end to this corrupt business that plagues the state, Governor Shumlin believes we need to create a legal market, however slowly and cautiously via a five-step process, unlike the states who have preceded us:

  • A legal market must keep marijuana and other drugs out of the hands of underage kids. With 83 percent of Vermont youth saying that marijuana is easy or somewhat easy to obtain, the current system doesn’t do this.
  • The tax imposed must be low enough to wipe out the black market and get rid of the illegal drug dealers.
  • Revenue from legalization must be used to expand addiction prevention programs.
  • Law enforcement’s capacity to improve the response to impaired drivers under the influence of marijuana who are already on Vermont’s roads must be strengthened.
  • The sale of edibles must be prohibited at first.

In addition to this, Shumlin provided explicit guidelines about his plans to keep the access of this substance by minors to a minimum. Further, through increasing the number of law enforcement officers trained as drug recognition experts, Shumlin wants to begin to tackle the issue of individuals driving under the influence of marijuana.

To conclude his statements on the issue, Governor Shumlin said, “We have a history of tackling difficult issues with respect and care, the Vermont way. I believe we have the capacity to take this next step and get marijuana legalization done right.”

Clearly confident of the work done on past legislation, Shumlin is optimistic about the work that will be done in the legislature regarding the recreational use of marijuana. As of now, we will wait as Senate committees work to create both tax and prevention provisions that weaken the black market.