Green Mountain State of Mind - 3 Things to Know About Cannabis Legalization in VT

With multiple cannabis reform bills hitting the legislature in January, a native Vermonter shares the lay of the land...by Eli Harrington - Vermontijuana

Video courtesy of: juharo - www.juharo.com - @juharolife

Thanks to a certain Senator/Larry David impersonator--who is the best presidential candidate for federal cannabis reform and needs your support, not corporate money, damnit--a lot more people are talking about Vermont these days.  So if you think about our Green Mountain State and picture your aunt and her partner who sell organic goat cheese, you're probably: A - surprised we didn't actually legalize recreational marijuana already, and B - understanding that our legalization discussion is uniquely Vermont-y and features the words 'artisanal', 'local', and 'craft' in almost every sentence...so here are three quick hits to pass around about the state of our state:

There is medical, but the program is tiny and the laws are conservative...

Mark Tucci, VT Medical Pioneer, Activist & Patient...via Seven Days

Mark Tucci, VT Medical Pioneer, Activist & Patient...via Seven Days

It was a seriously tough battle to get medical passed in 2004 and it took some big concessions and determined collaboration with law enforcement to help boost the grassroots efforts of patients and the lobbying of the MPP.  Current VT medical outlines: qualifying conditions are VERY strict and mostly for , prescribing physicians must have at least a six-month relationship with a patient applying, and there are currently only four dispensaries legally allowed to serve the 2000+ registered patients and caregivers in the state.  It's all overseen by the Department of Public Safety and has been very successful in preventing meds from reaching the illicit market, but with VERY small possession limits (2 mature; 7 immature; 2oz smokeable bud), many patients still access the parallel market of high quality homegrown from friends in the hills.

Those dispensary laws also mean that the only legally legitimate local industry knowledge and legal cover (to do testing, store genetics, do extraction, and make edibles) is monopolized by these four dispensaries, which are protected by a law that currently caps the number at four.

In every scenario proposed and discussed, the dispensaries would have the inside track on a recreational license (but would need to form a separate for-profit entity before their rubber stamp), so they're not particularly motivated to help the various business lobbyists open up recreational and see their patients go elsewhere.  The different pro-reform factions are more or less playing nicely, but it's too small a state not to collaborate, especially when the national prohibitionists (SAM-VT) are unified and organized enough to write the same op-ed every other week.

We're into being #1, but reforming cannabis laws via the legislature is a more complicated process...

VT Historic Seal (color)

If you know anyone from VT, you've probably heard, but we're pretty proud of our small state and it's list of 'firsts': first state to prohibit slavery, provide a state university and public education, legalize same sex marriage without a court order...you get the idea.

So it's appealing to our pride to be the first state to do this via our citizen legislature, but it's a very complicated political process.  Because our state government doesn't allow for ballot initiatives, it's MUCH more complicated than a single (or even multiple) yes/no proposition that's already been hammered out by the various factions.  Senator David Zuckerman--an organic farmer, longtime advocate for updating cannabis laws, and current candidate for Lt. Governor--proposed legislation last year (S.95) and a draft bill from the State Senate Government Operations Committee is due out in the next week.

Our outgoing governor, Peter Shumlin, is also a strong supporter and likely hopes to leave his post as the first ganja governor of the East Coast.  Since the political stars are aligned now, there's a good chance that we'll have something in place in 2016, but what the final product looks like will be a product of A LOT of hammers negotiating details.  The best solution is probably the creation of a cannabis control board that can more nimbly regulate and update medical and recreational VT cannabis.

We've got a way bigger drug problem, and it's both helping and hurting the discussion...

When Rolling Stone ran the story about Vermont being "The New Face of Heroin" in April 2014--along with an iconic picture of a Rockwell-ian lumberjack shooting up--it changed the public dialogue and now we've got a full-fledged.  Heroin addiction is increasing everywhere but in our small, tight-knit (read: affluent, blindingly-white) communities, we think it's markedly different here.

This means the false narrative of "heroin is awful, drugs are bad, weed is a drug, we need less not more drugs" is heard nonstop and does impact some of the more skittish voters.  Thankfully, we've got some serious leaders up the hill at the University of Vermont Medical School who just announced the first medical cannabis course in the country.  And when talking about cannabis as a gateway, the aforementioned Governor Shumlin responded to the Huffington Post in August by saying, "I would ask a simple question: If marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin, what are the FDA-approved opiates that we hand out like candy?

So that's the state of the Green Mountain State when it comes to legalization as of early December 2015, and while much has been done, the fun has just begun...stay tuned and help us Vermonters Elevate the State!