State of the State ~ Oct. 2-9, 2015

Welcome to the weekly review for 10/2-9, 2015 and a special thanks to those who signed up to beta test the first newsletter I sent, on my birthday, October and appreciation to friends, family, Dave Chappelle (or the Live Nation rep), and shout out to my Mom for toughing out a freaky early October snowstorm that dumped three feet on a Londonderry farmhouse (and many others in southern VT) in 1987 and made things interesting from the start.

Here are the top headlines for the week, contact me with follow up via email and on social media @Vermontijuana.

  • Green Mountain Global Forum & VTCC Team Up to Host Cannabis Conversation in Waitsfield (recap w/video link) [original reporting, full event video link courtesy of MRVTV]
  • Burlington Group Highlights Amnesty, Potential Legal Hypocrisies [VT digger + commentary]
  • Vermont League of Cities & Towns Continues to Oppose Pot, Public Opinion, Unbiased Information [Rutland Herald + commentary]
  • Pot Crimes = Bad Times: Three Arrested in Burlington For Weed-Related Crimes, None Shot! [VT digger + commentary]
  • VT Patients, Dispensaries, & Hemp Farmers Make Key Updates to Existing Laws [VT digger + commentary]
  • Burlington, Vermont, Featured in National Cannabis Publication, "Emerald Magazine" [Emerald Magazine + commentary]
  • Brattleboro Reformer Endorses Legalization [Brattleboro Reformer + commentary]
  • Deadliest U.S. Drug Epidemic, Opioid Addiction Featured on "On Point with Tom Ashbrook"; Vermontijuana Tweet Read On Air [On Point full audio + commentary]
  • $11 Million in FIRST WEEK of legal weed sales in Oregon [facebook video + commentary]

Green Mountain Global Forum Hosts VTCC Cannabis Conversations On the Road Event in Waitsfield [full recap and video]

Last Friday, October 2, 2015, I joined roughly 40 other Vermonters at the Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield for a special installment of the Green Mountain Global Forum.  The event was produced and coordinated by the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative (VTCC), who have hosted similar public forum events in Brattleboro, St. Johnsbury, Manchester, and Burlington throughout the summer and fall.  The audience in Waitsfield was mixed in terms of age--probably 50/50 for those over/under 50 years old--and profession, featuring retirees, farmers, young entrepreneurs, and others, mostly all valley locals, including Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), who chairs the influential House Committee on Judiciary.  

sanjay mpp meme

The forum started with each of the three presenters spending 15-20 minutes speaking to the audience about their own backgrounds with cannabis policy and the priorities of their respective organizations.  First was Laura Subin, a civil rights attorney who represented the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Vermont, which is a local affiliate of the Marijuana Policy Project and who argue that our current medical and decriminalization laws don't go far enough in serving patients or protecting minors.  She presented stats that showed the massive change in public opinion, happening across generations and the political spectrum. 

VTCC logo

Next was Will Raap, presenting on behalf of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative (Mad River Valley steering committee members are Judy MacIsaac Robertson, and Rob Williams, Ph.D) and spoke about the group's summer study groups, public forums, and perspective RE: legalization/regulation of, "not about if, but how to do it, and to do it the right way for Vermont".  To this point, he noted (excellently) the strength of Vermont in coordinating stakeholders across private, NGO, government, and academic sectors, and the importance of encouraging this coordination, especially in regards to shaping an equitable,  market for legal cannabis in Vermont.

Using a beautiful chart (featured at 24:00 below), he also touched on the transformative role of cannabis in the following respective categories: medical, education, new business opportunities, regional clusters of excellence, research, tourism, services, ancillary businesses, and agriculture. 

"What I can tell you is that legalization is almost certainly coming to New England next year, regardless of what Vermont does"

Last was Matt Simon, the New England Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) who as an organization have been involved in Vermont since the first medical bills were passed over a decade ago. He invoked alcohol prohibition and Al Capone in highlighting about the difference between the problems of a substance, and the effects of prohibition ("when we're making millionaires out of criminals, I would say that's a prohibition problem, not a marijuana problem, that's something we could address...").  He very effectively made the accurate alcohol and tobacco are much worse ("six deaths each day from alcohol overdose alone") argument, then transitioned to the question of Vermont's role in the region, "What I can tell you is that legalization is almost certainly coming to New England next year, regardless of what Vermont does".  

He pointed to ballot initiatives in Maine and Massachusetts ("those are both very much expected to qualify and appear on the 2016 ballot and considered very likely to pass") and serious legislative discussions in Rhode Island that could lead to passage next year, leading to three, possibly four states in New England next year.

The audience was eager to join in the discussion, (first question about licensure at 53:30, outline of all potential options in the response) but the forum otherwise got off to a rough start with an older guy who scared off at least a few people with a rant (I knew it was gonna get reallllllllll uncomfortable when he opened with, "I've got more of a comment, I'd first like to give a big shout out to my homeboy El Chapo Guzman"...) before the audience and panelists prevailed.  

Another poignant moment was a man who stood up and emotionally recalled how his (very) recently deceased wife had her suffering prolonged by delays in the existing medical marijuana system and inability to access therapeutic cannabis treatments.  He stressed urgency of patients and loved ones and asked audience members for any assistance in preventing that situation from recurring, and for finding support for himself before being met by Rep. Grad, who offered to assist him publicly and then spoke with him privately.

Overall, the questions and answers were excellent and thought-provoking, with a full hour of comments and questions coming from otherwise well-behaved farmers, retirees, aspiring ganjapreneurs, plenty of Millennials, and even a former DC lobbyist.  The familiar concerns ('use canopy, not plant count for growers'; 'how do we make sure big biz doesn't take over'; 'how can we bank'; how will licenses be distributed'...), but notably, neither the audience nor the panelists spent much time discussing kids or driving (VTrans meetings start 10/14), the two primary public safety concerns cited at every other VT cannabis forum and legalization conversation I've ever witnessed.

This is how you do excellent and engaging PSA's, also an example of cannabis sparking innovation for public benefit...

Millennials were well-represented (after being called out around the 103:00 mark, 3-4 of us got in the mix) with an Oaksterdam student, myself, and a young man asking about employee drug testing and ways it restricts the talent pool.  Matt Simon of MPP confirmed that Colorado has begun to successfully distinguish between someone who uses cannabis ("employers don't want to screen out anyone who's ever used marijuana" ) and someone who is coming to work impaired ("we all have an interest in sober bus drivers, for example").

Lastly, in the spirit of ELEVATE THE STATE, I'd encourage you to check out New GrassRoots, a Rutland-based tech company that's utilizing technology and data for increasing civic engagement...

Vermont Dispensaries, Patients, & Hemp Farmers Make Key Updates to Existing Laws

  Hemp grown in Rutland County, courtesy of VT Digger via Ken Manfredi

Hemp grown in Rutland County, courtesy of VT Digger via Ken Manfredi

(VT Digger - Elizabeth Hewitt - 10/8/15) Dispensaries can now serve patients via delivery, host more than one patient on-site at a time (provided privacy rules are met), and can cultivate and research hemp.  The first two points are great for helping to serve the existing 2,200 patients more quickly and efficiently.  As I understand it, the hemp provision represents an effective compromise where VT hemp farmers are still subject only to Dept. of Ag oversight, while dispensaries can be free to experiment with hemp products (like Charlotte's Web, used to treat children with epilepsy) with additional oversight coming through the existing Dept. of Public Safety mechanisms.  Smart.

Burlington Group Highlights Amnesty Questions, Potential Hypocrisies in Legalization

("Burlington Group Pushes for Amnesty for Marijuana Crimes" - VT Digger - Morgan True - October 5, 2015)  I don't think there's any real crisis or potential of BTV super liberals fighting against each other, just a question of tactics, personalities, and timing.  Having passed past local referendums and without a state law to which to respond, I don't think BTV (or any local) pols see much to gain by getting into specific aspects of legalization.  However, as a society, we all always need people looking out for social justice and elevating consciousness and awareness:

As more states legalize marijuana, Petrarca says a new class of mostly wealthy white male “cannabis capitalists” are poised to make a fortune off the sale of a product that still, in some cases, blocks people convicted of pot crimes from the democratic process and the mainstream economy. Those affected by pot busts are disproportionately people of color, he said.
 "Do I LOOK like a pot activist to you, sir?"

"Do I LOOK like a pot activist to you, sir?"

That's a great'd only be ironic if it wasn't so possible: people convicted of past cannabis crimes being barred from legal cannabis economy.  The article rightly mentions that Sen. Zuckerman's S.95 Proposal would address some amnesty questions, expunging criminal records of people convicted of less than an ounce, and older than 21.  But:

That doesn’t go nearly far enough for Petrarca, and many others, who want amnesty for any nonviolent marijuana-related conviction. He said there’s no reason that people convicted of possessing or selling even large amounts of marijuana should continue to be marginalized, when legalization is a tacit acknowledgement that they’ve done nothing wrong.
Petrarca brought up a recent bust where a Williston man was arrested after police discovered 63 marijuana plants in various stages of cultivation and more than six ounces of pot at his home.
The man they arrested, Andrew Terry, 45, faces two felony charges, which carry a maximum of 18 years in prison and up to a half-million dollars in fines, according to court records. In the not too distant future, Petrarca argues that Terry’s crimes could be part of a legitimate and growth industry in Vermont.

Overall, it's crucial that this question of amnesty keeps coming up in different ways.  I don't personally think that it's worth the effort or time to set up a ballot initiative (vs. engaging with state legislature, who will set the statewide policy) in Burlington before there's at least a draft, but I'm glad to know that Mr. Petrarca is here in Burlington keeping an eye out for the little guy because I guarantee that the plight of people with criminal records (even if nonviolent) will be the least represented in Montpelier come January.

He and others can be reassured by the mention of Senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia/Orange) in this article.  Senator Benning is a criminal defense lawyer who co-sponsored Act. 36, which was signed this summer and allows for expungement of convictions for behavior that is no longer criminal.  I'd encourage people to go back and watch the St. Johnsbury public forum, hosted by Senator Benning, who was quoted and described excellently in this VT Digger article: 

“If we go to legalization it’s a no-brainer,” he said of amnesty for nonviolent pot crimes.
Benning, a criminal defense lawyer, says that when he started practicing law, adultery was a crime, and later when that crime was eliminated in the 1980s, he said it no longer made sense for such a conviction to dog people’s lives.
“Society constantly changes and what’s considered illegal today many not be tomorrow,” he said. “There’s no point in having that be a barrier in your life.”

Vermont League of Cities & Towns Continues Opposing Pot, Public Opinion, and Unbiased Information

  "Future looks dark from where I'm sitting" *not actual picture of VLCT Town Fair*

"Future looks dark from where I'm sitting" *not actual picture of VLCT Town Fair*

("VLCT Continues Opposing Legal Pot" - Rutland Herald - Emily Cutts - October 9, 2015) When you hear something ridiculous like, “Everything that Colorado has predicted has all been negative...Nothing positive has come out of the whole legalization in Colorado.”, you step back and look for greater context.  I don't know or dislike the civil servant who stated the above, and I'm sure that both her, the Mayor of Rutland, and the rest of the Vermont League of Cities & Towns are well-intentioned, but someone forward them the last blog I wrote about them when they got a little loose-lipped off of the prohibitionist kool-aid.  To recap, just because a report is 380 pages, has a long acronym and (maybe fancy) binding, doesn't mean it's accurate.  Why do you think a prohibitionist group from Colorado is here in Vermont?  It's because public support in CO (based on direct experience, not manipulated data) for legalization has increased sincel legalization, and common sense has eliminated any relevance of this group.  Don't believe me?  Well, here's what a Forbes writer said about the group that provides this information in their article, titled, "Supposedly Neutral Federal Report Stacks the Deck Against Marijuana Legalization"

For prohibitionists determined to portray marijuana legalization in Colorado as a disaster, those poll results are inconvenient, since they indicate that public support for Amendment 64 was higher after more than a year of legal recreational sales and more than two years of legal possession and home cultivation than it was in 2012. Honest drug warriors would acknowledge the Quinnipiac numbers and perhaps try to balance them with other poll results. Dishonest drug warriors would do what the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) does in its new report on marijuana legalization: change the numbers.
  Those damn hippies at Forbes and their ability to accurately process and communicate statistics..

Those damn hippies at Forbes and their ability to accurately process and communicate statistics..

When it comes to the effect of cannabis laws on the states that have them, I'd recommend another Forbes article, "Legalized Medical Marijuana Doesn't Affect Teen Usage, Study Finds" that notes:

Organizations that are against legalizing medical marijuana like Smart Approaches to Marijuana cite a report from Monitoring the Future by the University of Michigan that says access to pot has increased and usage is up. The report, a National Survey on Drug Use, instead notes that pot use cycles up and down amongst teens and that it has actually dropped in 2013-2014. 23% of teens use marijuana now as compared to 36% in 1979.  

If you were 16 in 1979, you're 52 right now...unless you're one of the 36% of teens who used pot, then you're probably definitely dead or in jail.

So what will the VLCT do and will it really matter to local municipalities who want cannabis revenues (see first week sales in Oregon below)?  That remains to be seen.  I'll say that if I was the Mayor of Rutland, I'd much rather spend more time thinking about where to zone the cannabis revenue-funded opiate treatment centers, and less time regurgitating easily-disproven facts from an untrustworthy source.

Pot Crimes = Bad Times: Three Arrested in Burlington For Weed-Related Crimes, None Shot

("Three Burlington Men Arrested for Alleged Pot-Related Crimes" - VT digger - Morgan True - October 7, 2015) If it was legal, you would instantly eliminate a large part of the illicit market: nobody gets robbed for alcohol (or trying to buy alcohol) because it's not artificially scarce and controlled by illicit actors isolated from legal consequences.  This is how you get a scenario where two people get pistol-whipped and robbed trying to buy pot, but still report it because it's a larger risk to public safety.  Petty theft related to a prohibited substance is a larger societal and market problem, certainly not a weed problem.

  Standing over someone threatening to stab at an ATM...

Standing over someone threatening to stab at an ATM...

I can't help but wonder why this third kid gets off the hook and gets to go home even for a night when he's also a suspect in a home invasion robbery but he must have cried his ass off in court, hopefully he's not done at age 18.  However, when you're arrested like this: standing over someone curled up on the ground, holding an pointy object in your hand, looking like you're going to stab him, then you make a move (other than dropping the object), it's not unreasonable to imagine a police officer with a drawn weapon shooting your drunk, stupid ass.  Hopefully at 18, this kid isn't a career criminal and figures it out, but at least the rest of us maintain the streak of Vermont being the only state in the U.S. with no one killed by a police officer in 2015, according to WCAX via The Guardian.  *knocks on wood*

Burlington, Vermont, Featured in National Cannabis Publication, "Emerald Magazine"

emerald magazine screen shot

(East Coast Green Scene - James Priest/Alicia J. Rose - October 2015)  There are two different VT-centric articles in the free 'zine (send me an email if you'd like me to mail you a physical copy!) that is based in Humboldt County, CA and distributed nationally.  There is a brief puffy Burlington travel piece with a few shout outs to classic locations: Nectar's, Higher Ground, Radio Bean, and VPB (really?).  But the more interesting content for future cannabis tourists and aspiring local ganjapreneurs is where he provides the overview of the medical laws ("For those who don't have qualifying conditions and still partake, be careful and prepared to pay a fine for possession if you're caught by law enforcement") and other 'dos and donts'...we'll see more of this writing in the future, especially on the Vermontijuana website and in the newsletter (subscribe here).  

Shout out to James Priest for writing about Vermont and following @Vermontijuana on twitter! Check out Emerald Magazine online, follow them on twitter @TheEmeraldNews, and check out more great national content by James and others @MarijuanaWriter.  If you're in the 802 and want a physical copy of the 'zine, email vermontijuana and I'll mail you a copy.


brattleboro reformer

(Our Opinion: Save lives, eliminate marijuana restrictions; Brattleboro Reformer - Editorial Staff - October 2, 2015) It's no surprise that the public voice of Windham County (who some compare favorably to Humboldt County RE: cannabis growing expertise/enthusiasm) is supportive of ending prohibition.  BUT, it's still a major step for a the paper of record to say these things "unequivocally", and in one article to touch on hemp, criminal justice, therapeutic, and research-based arguments.

But the saddest part of all, people we love and cherish are dying of cancers that could be treated with marijuana but their access is restricted due to antiquated and draconian laws that treat marijuana the same as LSD, heroin and other devastating drugs.
Perhaps those who say we should take the slow approach to legalizing marijuana should look a cancer patient in the eye and say: "Too bad, but there are just too many unknowns." In other words, they are telling these people to shut up and die or become criminals. Where is the compassion?

Deadliest U.S. Drug Epidemic, Opioid Addiction Featured on "On Point with Tom Ashbrook";

Vermontijuana Tweet Read On Air

(On Point Website, October 6, 2015) On Point is one of the best news programs in the country, and Tom Ashbrook is a hero of mine for his work as a journalist.  The guests are always masters of the subject matter, the discussions and callers are informed, and the host steers the ship in a powerful and efficient route.  I've listened to On Point almost religiously for the past six years, so I didn't specifically tune into hear this, but as someone with close connection to an opioid addict, I was intrigued.  Even being someone who knows how this fucked up cycle works from the perspective of a friend who is a recovering addict, I was SHOCKED to learn more about how opioids have been so effectively-marketed to, and over-prescribed by, physicians.  Not discussed enough was the question of race, and urgency ("this epidemic is really, strikingly white"), and not discussed at all was marijuana, but if we're having adult conversations about drug policies, we need to understand how the tragic ones really happen.

quoted tweet

At 32:15 in the program Tom says, "Boy talk about normalization, online, on twitter, Vermont-i-juana writes to us: "Slick marketing, opioid road shows, and over prescription, the real GATEWAY to a real drug problem...tragic".

In just 3/4 of an hour, there's so much amazing perspective and elevated discourse around the real tragic drug epidemic in our country, opioids.  Personally, I've seen what addiction can do to a young Vermonter via a close friend (who is recovering and sober today), so it's tragic and eye-opening to learn more about how this epidemic was propagated.  

Full Episode Description:

American Opioid Addiction Keeps Growing
American addiction. From prescription painkillers to heroin. The numbers are staggering. Why?
If you hadn’t noticed – and it’s hard to ignore – we are now in the midst of the worst addiction epidemic in American history. And unlike earlier battles with crack and cocaine, say my guests today, this addiction epidemic was made in America. Fueled by American pharmaceutical companies churning out mountains of opioid pills. Enabled by doctors looking to deal with pain. Embraced by Americans for all kinds of reasons. Followed up by cheap heroin when the prescriptions run out.  Hitting young and old – and white. This hour On Point, America’s homegrown addiction epidemic.  – Tom Ashbrook
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. Executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and senior scientist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. (@andrewkolodny).  SHOUT OUT TO BRANDEIS
Dr. Anna Lembke, program director of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Program and chief of the Stanford Dual Diagnosis Clinic. Author of the forthcoming book, “Drug Dealer, MD.”
Leonard Campanello, chief of police for the Gloucester, Mass., police department. (@GloucesterPD)

Oregon Brings in $11 Million Dollars in

First Week of Legal Sales

Oregon's Legal Weed Sales Bring In $11 Million In One Week

Oregon made $11 million off legal weed in one week

Posted by NowThis on Thursday, October 8, 2015

(Via NowThis Facebook Page) That's a TON of money, more than twice Colorado's first month and five times more than Washington's first month.  And that's just in the first week.  It's all tax-free until January 2015, after which point a 25% tax ($2.75M of this past week's $11M total) will kick in, 40% of that go to public schools and 25% to public health.  That means that a 25% tax on the sales from the first week of legal cannabis sales in Oregon would have resulted in $1.1M of new tax revenue going to public schools, and $687,000 of new tax revenue going to public health programs.

The Pacific Northwest 'megacity' region comprising Oregon up through Vancouver is about 8-9M people, at least half of whom already lived within a four hour drive to legal cannabis in Washington.  By comparison, New England has a population of about 14M, none of whom can access legal (non-medicinal) cannabis within a four hour drive.  That doesn't count the other 4.1M in the Montreal Metro Area, only 90 minutes north of the VT border.  I'm no statistician, but it's not hard at all to imagine the demand for the first week of legal cannabis in VT easily resulting in sales at, or higher, than the Oregon figures...