Greg Dennis: Up in smoke?
It’s now legal in Vermont to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. But that newly enacted law is just one step toward full legalization.
With our state Senate ready to approve a bill to tax and regulate cannabis in various forms beyond the “flower” that is so popular for smoking, all eyes will initially be on the Vermont House: Will it approve legislation allowing the legal sale of other cannabis products? Or will the House just Bogart that bill and get nothing passed?
There’s increasing public pressure to expand legal sale of cannabis products such as edibles, sublinguals, balms, creams and oils. And in a time of fiscal constraint — which limits the states’ ability to provide adequate human services and environmental protection — it’s increasingly hard to justify walking away from millions of dollars in new tax revenue.
With House approval and the support of Lt. Gov. Dave Zuckerman, attention would then focus on Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Scott first vetoed and then signed legislation allowing limited growing and possession. He’s frequently expressed qualms about ending prohibition.
But the governor may be reluctant to veto a bill allowing retail cannabis sales. If, that is, he wants to get re-elected in 2020.
Because next year, angry hordes of Vermonters will head to the polls to vote against Scott’s party and anything that even remotely smells Trumpian. Approving full legalization might help Scott survive the anti-GOP onslaught.
Legal weed also offers the tantalizing prospect of a homegrown industry. We don’t need to be dominated by big businesses advertising that this bud’s for you. We could create the cannabis equivalent of our thriving craft beer industry.
It’s already easy to foresee a time when Vermont will be bordered by three jurisdictions where marijuana products are readily available from retail outlets that cater to those 21 and older.
Massachusetts is budding out dispensaries like cannabis sativa in summer. Vermonters will be able to enjoy a steady supply via a pleasant day trip down Route 7 to Williamstown.
Marijuana is now legal in Quebec and the rest of Canada, though it’s of course inadvisable to transport a Schedule 1 drug across an international border.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also pushing for legalization. That means cannabis-craving Vermonters may soon take a ferry across to the Empire State and get high in Ti.
Dave Silberman is an attorney who lives in Middlebury and advocates, on a pro bono basis, for drug policy reform and full cannabis legalization. He worries that if Vermont doesn’t soon move to tax and regulate the drug, it will only reinforce illicit sales.
If Vermont does decide to fully legalize various forms of cannabis for adult consumption, what would it look like?
I decided to answer that question during a trip to the Left Coast this month. Strictly in the name of research, of course.
The Apothecarium is a high-end group of legal cannabis outlets in San Francisco and Las Vegas. I visited the store in the Castro district of Baghdad by the Bay. After proving I was over 21 and registering with my driver’s license, I was shown to a comfortable waiting area.
Ken, a friendly 60-ish fellow with a soul patch, soon invited us to the large counter where he and other consultants met with (what do we call these folks — customers? clients? connoisseurs?). He walked us through the various offerings, which were presented by category in a nicely printed menu book. Kind of like a wine list.
My favorite moment was when Ken informed us that in addition to the discount for first-timers, we were also eligible for the “life experience” discount of an additional 10 percent because we were over 60.
No more senior discounts for me, baby. I’ve got life experience.
Ken brought out samples of the various products that caught my eye on the menu. Gummies; chocolate-coated, THC-infused blueberries; CBD tinctures; a Whoopi Goldberg-endorsed bee balm infused with CBD; and tablets to be ingested sublingually (under the tongue).
The edibles and tabs were in sealed packages with recommended dosages of 5 milligrams. And if a tiny buzz is your preference, the store also offers 1 mg tabs for microdosing your way through the day.
I’m OK with legal edibles. But I was sorry to see that once opened, the sealed packaging offered multiple edibles. For the same reasons that prescription drugs are sold in child-resistant packaging, the cannabis industry needs to adopt a safer approach.
What about the alleged benefits of the products themselves? In the course of our travels I concluded:
• The blueberries were delicious and pleasantly mellow.
• The CBD tincture did seem to help with sleep.
• The gummies tasted like the weedy brownies we used to bake in the ’70s.
• The tablets to “reduce anxiety” did not.
• The CBD balm has a wonderful scent but did little to ease my aching shoulder. Two Advil were more effective and far less expensive.
What about the flower itself? Didn’t we want to toke up with some Maui Wowie?
It’s probably a measure of where the market is going that I wasn’t interested in even sampling the smokable weed.
But oh my, did it smell good. Like a lambent July evening in Vermont, suffused with the distant scent of skunk, maple syrup and Champlain Valley honey.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at gregdennis.wordpress.com. Twitter: @greengregdennis. Email: [email protected].
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