Op - Ed
February 2, 2016

Big Marijuana industry puts pressure on lawmakers, public opinion mixed at best

By Julia Purdy

Writer-investigative journalist Upton Sinclair authored “The Jungle,” a fictionalized exposé of the toxic, unregulated underbelly of the Chicago meat-packing industry. That and other revelations of corruption in the early 20th century led directly to the Pure Food and Drug Act and the first code of ethics for journalists. An admitted socialist, Sinclair—like Bernie Sanders—attacked the American plutocracy, which enjoyed complete freedom from regulation. In 1943 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

“It is difficult to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” Sinclair wrote, expressing a truism that most can understand.

Some of our Legislators and the Shumlin administration may not be drawing a salary to push drugs onto Vermonters, but they do seem beholden to the marijuana industry.

VTDigger in 2014 reported that the Marijuana Policy Project “ranked first for the amount of money it donated to lawmakers’ campaigns during the 2011-2012 election cycle. It donated $12,850 total, including $300 to White.” (Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, a champion of medical marijuana, has been steadily trying to expand marijuana availability in Vermont to include commercialization.) VTDigger goes on: “The Marijuana Policy Project also gave $10,000 to Gov. Peter Shumlin.”

In addition, we read this, from The Weed Street Journal, published online Aug. 9, 2012:  “In a bid for reelection, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is reaching out to the smoking community for fundraising. Shumlin has put on the public record that, if reelected, he wants to be a national spokesperson for the end of marijuana prohibition … Governor Shumlin recently reached out to marijuana reform advocates in an effort to raise campaign fundraising. NORML recently made this statement regarding their support for Shumlin: ‘Many of us have worked for too many years (decades!) to arrive at this juncture in the Cannabis Prohibition epoch when elected policymakers now contact pro-cannabis law reform organizations proactively for financial help, and to affirm their support for legal reforms… according to most recent Gallup polling, legalization is more popular than prohibition–let’s help finish this process sooner than later by helping to elect the political allies we need to replace the failed and expensive public policy of Cannabis Prohibition with logical alternatives.’ A donation of any amount is highly appreciative. You do not have to be a resident of the state of Vermont to make a donation…You can make a donation online at www.shumlinforgovernor.com. Or you can mail a donation to: Shumlin for Governor, PO  Box 5353 Burlington, VT 05402.”

In June 2013 the governor decriminalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana—a goodly quantity by most standards, at a time when marijuana was measured by the ounce. Cannabis manufacture has gone far beyond that now, with sophisticated new extracts and new ways of consuming appearing every day. We are now looking at a burgeoning Big Marijuana industry—ironically, at a time when Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, “Big” anything have become targets of reform crusades.

It is highly doubtful that the majority of Vermonters want marijuana to become commercially available. But opponents of legalization do not have a paid mouthpiece in Montpelier. The pro-marijuana echo chamber is loud, arrogant and offensive, and the ballyhoo has attracted a lot of fighters for the cause from outside Vermont.

The “Vermont way” is generally non-confrontational, easygoing and progressive. But the Vermonter is also a tough sell. “Without fear or favor” is written into the oath every voter takes. More opposition voices are emerging.

We also now have the state Health Commission report which does its best to remain objective and which has fired several shots across the bow of the pro-legalization movement, countering most of the pro-legalization arguments. When those whose job and mission it is to protect the health and wellbeing of the public oppose marijuana legalization, against the forces mentioned above, it should give voters pause. Let’s keep our levelheadedness about this issue and the willingness to “just say no” when the facts don’t pan out in the public interest.

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