State News

Vermont physicians’ group comes out against legal marijuana market

By Anne Wallace Allen/ VTDigger

The Vermont Medical Society has come out strongly against proposals to commercialize marijuana, saying that expanding use in Vermont would harm infants and youth, increase traffic fatalities, and hinder workplace productivity.

The society, which represents about 2,000 of the state’s physicians and physician assistants, said in a resolution Oct. 27 that it would oppose the creation of a system for commercial marijuana sales in meetings with lawmakers and the governor in the coming months.

“Other states are seeing many different ramifications from a commercial system,” said Stephanie Winters, deputy director at Vermont Medical Society. “We need to be very aware of those things and be wary of how that will affect our state and our youth especially.”

Recreational marijuana use became legal in Vermont on July 1, but non-medical sale remains illegal. Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a panel to look into a system to tax and regulate cannabis and to report back in December. A proposal is expected to come before lawmakers next year.

A report from the taxation subcommittee of the commission recommends taxing retail sales of marijuana with a 20 percent excise tax and the existing state sales tax of 6 percent.

The subcommittee recommends the creation of a board to oversee the industry and license categories for cultivators, processors, retailers, transporters and testers.

Like the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Department of Health connects marijuana use with a legion of problems.

“Early and continuous use of marijuana significantly increases the risk of not completing high school, not enrolling in or completing college, low educational achievement, lower income, unemployment and welfare dependence as an adult, premature workforce retirement due to disability, and reduction in IQ in middle adulthood,” the department says on its website.

Andrew Subin, a lawyer who recently moved to Vermont from Washington state to work in the growing marijuana industry, said that the Medical Society and other opponents were behind the times, and that marijuana has never been proven to cause harm.

“Their attitude is from the 1950’s,” said Subin, who started working at the law firm Vermont Cannabis Solutions in Burlington on August 1. “Their concerns are not warranted. I would question what they base their findings on.”

The science on whether full legalization leads to increased use is slim; however, studies have shown that legalized medical marijuana does lead to increased pot use.

The medical society’s resolution says that regulating commercial marijuana would increase its use, and asked the governor and state officials to do more research on the topic and also oppose passage of any commercial use legislation.

The resolution calls for research on issues including “increased challenges recruiting health professionals, increased Medicaid costs, increased ER utilization, increased hospitalization rates, increased THC positive infants, increased traffic fatalities, workforce costs, economic productivity loss to existing industry, environmental impact costs, costs to the law enforcement system, and education costs.”

Subin disagreed with those recommendations, saying that regulation would make cannabis use safer.

“I believe the adult use numbers will remain fairly static, with the only difference being a move towards regulated, tested, labeled and taxed cannabis rather than black market cannabis,” he said. “Requiring that cannabis be tested for pesticides, mold, etc., will make legal regulated cannabis far safer than black market cannabis.”

He also said the medical society doesn’t have evidence now to back up some of the claims in its resolution.

“I don’t think they have any basis for saying marijuana has caused a negative health effect on anyone in Vermont,” he said.

Winters said more research is needed.

“We have certainly heard there is increased traffic fatalities, I think there have already been news reports in Vermont that there have been increased THC levels in traffic accidents, but that would all be anecdotal for us,” she said.

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