On January 13, 2016

Marijuana is devolution, not progress

Dear Editor,

In response to Eli Harrington’s letter, “Vermont leaders approach cannabis with healthy skepticism and caution, not naivete,” which appeared in the Dec. 31-Jan 6 edition of The Mountain Times, I note that Mr. Harrington is the founder of Vermontijuana (Vermont + Tijuana?), which you describe as “a hub for information and resources related to the evolution of cannabis reform in Vermont.” So it’s quite understandable that you will depict the marijuana industry in the light of a progressive step forward, being conducted in a rational and dignified manner. You equate marijuana legalization with the other “progressive” causes that the Vermont legislature has achieved, such as civil unions and GMO labeling and, in the case of Burlington, a ban on guns in restaurants. You further describe the approach to marijuana as “the same that you’ll get from any education source that this [marijuana] industry now provides: low and slow.”

I don’t blame you for spreading oil on these turbulent waters. It all sounds very soothing, as if the Legislature is about to vote on whether to allow the sale of shoes in Vermont. But the oil you are spreading is hash oil. There is a world of difference between measures that promote public wellbeing, and pushing for an industry that exists almost solely in its own interest, at the expense of public health and safety.

In any case, you seem to have missed my point, which was (and is) that anyone who thinks that Vermont is going to “manage” commercial marijuana “our way” is deluding himself or herself.

There is nothing “low and slow” about the tremendous pressure on the Legislature to legalize marijuana. And, once legalized, Vermont will experience the so-called “green rush” experienced by Colorado, in which the marijuana industry has taxed the state’s ability to cope with it. Not only is the black market alive and well in states where it’s legal, but the hoped-for revenue windfall is not materializing as hoped and is eaten away by the cost of enforcement, education and treatment programs.

Regulations are not successful in preventing access by schoolchildren, nor the use of pesticides in grow operations, nor the availability of infused cannabis products. But Marijuana does represent a greater policing burden on the community. With Washington State and Oregon experiencing much the same issues as Colorado, it’s clear that the spread of commercialization of powerful psychotropic drugs such as the cannabis products of today is beyond anyone’s ability to control or regulate adequately, especially with the trafficking networks already in place and aggressive marketing.

In the Sept. 10-16 issue of Westword, a Denver publication similar to Seven Days, Governor Hickenlooper said, “The hardest part is that you’re having to negotiate with an industry that’s being created even as it constantly evolves. It has its own self-interest, and the primary point isn’t public health. They want to be safe, but they also have a business to run. We’re moving so fast that the rate of change often builds to almost a necessity of conflict.”

The interview, which included Andrew Freedman, the state’s director of marijuana coordination, revealed that a sizeable portion of time and energy at the state, county and local levels is going into figuring out how to cope with the new reality. Freedman admitted that while the rollout is better than expected, “the other questions, about public health, are longer-term. If people consume marijuana, they don’t drink as much; that’s not really proven yet. And what happens to kids? How do you stop those ‘60s Big Tobacco campaigns? Every year we’ll have to ask ourselves, how are we doing?”

Harrington asserts that “Those who disagree with cannabis progress have spoken, been heard, and as a state, we’re proceeding forward as the majority has requested.” First of all, this is not the scenario. As in Washington State and Colorado a public referendum—heavily financed and poorly debated—steamrolled opposing voices. Despite that fact, the referendum passed only by a narrow margin. As for “the majority” of Vermonters requesting to “move forward,” I have heard this claim before on other issues. It is based on the fact that Chittenden County contains the highest population density of the state, which assumes “as goes Burlington, so goes Vermont.” In Vermont, there is no such referendum and no such “majority,” other than prospective marijuana tycoons and lobbyists, has made such a request.

I can say that one year ago I stood in subzero weather at the transfer station in the town of Chittenden with a petition to instruct the Legislature not to legalize recreational marijuana. People were grabbing the pen out of my hand and bringing their friends and spouses back to sign. It made the ballot on Town Meeting and was defeated by just one vote. I do not think Chittenden’s unique in its opposition.

P.S. My Vermont roots go back to 1760.

Julia Purdy, Chittenden

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