VTCC Forum Video, Marijuana Conversation Heats Up Online, Pols Start Rolling...[9/8/2015]

Welcome back everyone--weekend warriors, college students (RIP parking in BTV, whuddup uvm.snaps), teachers, and the rest of ya...I'll be blogging more regularly going forward and have a ton to post this week, including the full video from the VTCC Public Forum in Manchester (watch teaser), announcement of the #CannabisConversations series at Nectar's (first one next Tuesday), and a few HUGE interviews...stay tuned.

Statewide Candidates Start Rolling, 

Shap & Dunne Hit, Pass To The Right...

Part of the surge in cannabis coverage during the past week has been the official announcement of House Speaker, Shap Smith that he intends to run for Governor in 2016.  More notable for our purposes--the question was when he'd announce, not if--has been his recent "shift" in his attitude towards passing a legalization/regulation bill.  Where he was previously "undecided" (publicly), he has now stated that, "It's clear to me in my discussions with Vermonters that in general, the people in this state probably favor legalization,” Smith said on VPR's Vermont Edition on Aug. 28. “And I certainly believe that we can legalize marijuana if we do it right … we've seen what has happened in Colorado and Washington, and we can learn from their experiences."

As part of a group of VT officials/lawmakers who were led by the Marijuana Policy Project, Speaker Smith has taken at least one research trip to Washington in the past few months, so it would appear that he's seen the light(s) out west and changed his tune.  Convenient, but not unwelcome support...

In a recent piece from WCAX that's embedded below, Matt Dunne, Google Executive, former State Senator and fellow Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate, rightly states that in fact, behind the scenes and before his candidacy, Speaker Smith has been one of the biggest obstacles to regulating cannabis in Vermont.  

In fact, just last year, in the VTDigger article, "Speaker Squashes Effort to Study Marijuana Tax", Smith explained his decision to 'spike' a proposal to study potential tax revenue, an amendment that was supported by the Ways and Means Committee.

Smith explained his decision this way:

“If they had wanted to actually put it in the original bill that would have been fine, I don’t really care, but given that I had ruled not germane the health care finance subpoenas as outside of the scope of what was related to the bill I thought consistency required me to actually rule that one not germane. It doesn’t have anything to do with my feelings of marijuana,” Smith said.

Smith said he opposes legalizing marijuana and “wasn’t a big fan of decriminalization, either.” Lawmakers reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts of pot last session.

If the marijuana amendment had been introduced first, he would have also ruled it not germane, Smith said.

Email inquiries and requests for interview have been sent to both Lt. Governor Phil Scott, and Bruce Lisman, the two announced Republican Gubernatorial Candidates.

National News Picks Up VT 'Legalization' Debate

If you're closely paying attention to the news, and the news about cannabis in Vermont, you've noticed a HUGE upswing in coverage.  And that's just locally.  Just yesterday, the Executive Director of NORML, Allen St. Pierre posed the question on the NORML website, "Vermont Legislature: Will They Be First In The Nation to Legalize Marijuana?".

I'm expecting more coverage from High Times, who published a great story (based on Shap's change of heart) last week called, "Vermont's Perfect Storm to a Retail Cannabis Market"...check that out and stay tuned for more national coverage

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[Full Video] Vermont Cannabis Collaborative Public Forum September 1, 2015 | Manchester, VT

You've seen my teaser, now watch the video in it's entirety, courtesy of Greater Northshire Access Television (website), who were there to document the public forum, which was coordinated by the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative.  Thanks to Haley for filming and sharing, to the VTCC for hosting the discussion, and for the Vermonters who came out to discuss!

VT Pols mix it up in VT Digger Comment Section


One thing that I especially appreciate about VT Digger, is that their comment section is typically more like the educated, civil, attributed-by-name, discussion that can happen online.  As a result of this, we often see representatives chiming in directly, whether to clarify a statement, refute an assertion, or take advantage of an engaged audience to discuss a specific topic.  My favorite recent example comes from Senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia/Orange) and Senator David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden), who both chimed in on the afore-linked article with some insight into how they're thinking about legalization/taxation/regulation.  Full text below screenshots in italic for Sen. Zuckerman, who's response was cut off...



I appreciate the feedback. It is important to remember that to get the conversation going and legitimately moving, I had to put a range of ideas on the table. I do not believe that my own bill is the perfect bill. It has been great that so many people are interested in adding ideas and suggestions as we move forward.

Having talked with many across the state there were some common themes expressed to me. One of the biggest was to be sure that people could grow their own. That is allowed in the bill….and I think we allowed enough for that, but of course that is adjustable (I think it was more than 2 plants).

People have also expressed to me (and other Senators) that they do not want large out of state businesses to take over what is a very high quality small scale system in Vermont. I could not agree more. This law should be about benefiting Vermonters and not about large out of state corporations.

The idea of personal production (like home brew) is great. The question is what to do about commercial production and sale? There are many ways to go about it. As I learned from the experiences in Washington and Colorado (at a conference I attended in Seattle in June), there are many ways/choices/methods of taxation/fees. No one is perfect. But it is important to remember that there is a cost for the state for the process of regulating the commercial sale of this product.

The benefit for the current growers (for instance, in the bill I introduced, one has to be a Vermont resident to get a license…) is that there will no longer be any fear of government taking you down. Instead of growing a handful of plants (for a higher price in all likelihood), you will be able to grow many times more (of your high quality product), and sell it legitimately. Hopefully reaping a better economic model for the producer and more reliable product for the consumer.

Is it going to be a perfect system? No. Am I open to ideas to make bill S. 95 better? Yes. Odds are there will be a new bill introduced with ideas from S. 95 as well as ideas from others who offer workable ideas. It is very helpful to get input on what would work best.

For me, the bill was not meant as a money grab. Although I will admit, I think there are some good things that could be done to help our state by using revenues from cannabis for treatment programs for people addicted to other drugs. I also believe that since it is likely to be an expanding and profitable industry that the workers should be paid well enough that the state does not have to subsidize them. I also believe that it is important that we create as green a footprint as we can. Given that production will increase, and it has been shown that a huge amount of energy is required (for indoor grow operation). So I would prefer that we encourage greener facilities (solar on the rooftops? greenhouses? outdoor production?).

So please, do offer suggestions as to how to best regulate the commercial market. That is what we are talking about here. The personal production issue for me is just like beer. Grow what you need/want for personal consumption and for giving away to friends. Lets keep the dialogue going and know that I am not wedded to the exact wording of S.95.

Watch Matt Simon's interview with Vermontijuana below