Opinion: It’s time for Vermont to take action on pot legalization bill

In his April 14 column titled “It makes sense to go slow on pot bill,” Eric L. Davis makes several critical errors of fact and logic.
First, Davis claims that there has been evidence of an increase in underage marijuana use in Colorado following legalization. This is incorrect. Two comprehensive surveys of marijuana use have been conducted (including one by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), and neither found a statistically significant change in Colorado’s underage use rates following legalization.
These results were expected, as multiple independent studies have consistently found that people who do not use marijuana choose to abstain not because of the drug’s legal status or lack of availability, but for a multitude of other reasons, with the top one typically being some variant of “I just don’t like it.”
Second, Davis claims that “federally insured banks and credit unions will not provide accounts for marijuana-related businesses.” While this is hardly a compelling argument on its own for jailing otherwise law-abiding people for possessing more than 1 ounce of marijuana, it is also just plain wrong on the facts. As the commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation testified before both the Senate and House recently, VSECU already provides checking accounts to Vermont’s three medical marijuana dispensaries, and has expressed willingness to provide such accounts to licensed commercial establishments should the General Assembly choose to legalize and regulate the production and sale of marijuana in Vermont.
Third, Davis states that Vermont is the only state in New England where legalization is “on the legislative agenda.” This is wildly misleading. Massachusetts voters are set to vote on a referendum legalizing marijuana this November, as are voters in Maine. Both referenda are polling at above 60 percent support. Moreover, legalization bills have been introduced in both the Rhode Island and Connecticut legislatures.
The truth is that the General Assembly is, and for years has been, going very slow on marijuana. Vermont first legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and then authorized medical dispensaries in 2012. In 2013, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana was changed from a misdemeanor to a civil offense. In 2014, the General Assembly ordered a comprehensive independent study of marijuana legalization, which was completed in 2015.
Now, in 2016, after reviewing the results of that study, and looking at the experience (both good and bad) of states like Colorado and Washington, the Senate has passed a cautious bill under which regulated sales would not have begun until 2018 — giving the state even more time to carefully craft regulations for consumer safety, launch a youth education campaign, and continue to adjust to address new facts as they come in.
We’ve been going slow on marijuana, for over a decade. Now that we’ve finally reached our destination, some wish to slam on the brakes, put the car in reverse, and pretend that continued prohibition will somehow benefit society — even though it has failed to do anything of the sort so far. It is time for the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead, and pass a bill that ends our failed 80-year experiment with prohibition, and addresses marijuana as the public health issue that it is, rather than the crime we keep pretending it to be. It’s time, and Vermont is ready.
Dave Silberman

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