“Vermonters know that prohibition isn’t working.” Laura Subin testified. “Marijuana is easy to get and widely used.”
As director for the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, Subin opposes prohibition. She spoke Wednesday during a public forum on taxing and regulating the plant. The hearing signals a major step for marijuana policy change in Vermont.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding (right) and Rand Senior Policy Researcher Beau Kilmer hosted the forum requesting questions and comments from Vermonters on taxing and regulating marijuana. They heard testimony from both sides via the Vermont Interactive Technologies system, a way for the public to interact by video from nine locations throughout the state.
Kilmer, the lead researcher on the project, spent the beginning of the public forum explaining his role. He made it clear that the study will not pass judgment on legalization as policy. Instead, it will address all the benefits and concerns surrounding legalization allowing Vermonters to make an informed decision.
When Vermont lawmakers voted to expand the state’s medical marijuana program in April, they could see legalization coming. They knew advocates would move on the issue, but they lacked reliable information. Kilmer’s report aims to fix that problem.
While ballot initiatives were necessary in states like Colorado and Alaska, Vermont’s lawmakers may act before advocates can field one.
“We feel like the Legislature is ahead of the curve.” Matt Simon told Marijuana.com in a recent phone interview. Simon serves as New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project. The advocacy group had key roles during legalization efforts in Colorado in 2012 and Alaska this year.
MPP commissioned a poll by the Castleton Polling Institute in May that showed majority support for taxing and regulating marijuana among Vermont voters. With 57 percent in favor and only 34 percent opposed, the group plans to use this momentum to pass laws creating a regulated and taxed system next year.
The Green Mountain State boasts progressive marijuana policy, but most of that is recent. Lawmakers took meaningful strides by creating a medical marijuana program in 2004. Unfortunately, they saddled it with a limit of 1,000 patients and little access to medicine.
Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a medical marijuana reform bill in April. The change removed the patient cap and created rules for a statewide dispensary system. Other changes included allowing naturopaths to certify patients, allowing dispensaries to deliver and ordering two marijuana studies.
The first study concerns adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. The second is on the impacts of taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. Vermont awarded a contract to the Rand Corporation as an independent researching organization to answer the latter question.
The state adopted marijuana decriminalization in 2013. The old punishment was a criminal misdemeanor, up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Offenders now pay a $200 fine if they are over 21. If they are under 21, they can enter a diversion program.
Subin spoke as an activist, domestic violence expert and mother of three young children. She spoke of prohibition as a lifestyle choice that people should respect. She told Marijuana.com in an email why she fights.
“The impact of prohibition on human and civil rights is the heart of why I care so deeply about this issue.” Subin wrote.
The research report from Rand is due by January 15, 2015.