Vermontijuanalogues - Part One - Driving & Legalization

Listening to the excellent and thorough VPR coverage (H/T to Bob Kinzel and others for the specific cannabis reportage) of the first day of the Vermont Legislature (link), the major issues that need to be addressed before serious movement can start became even more clear.  So, the next few articles will address some of the major questions raised here (and pretty much everywhere else talking about legalization).  I’ll also share a few humble ideas that I hope might help catalyze discussions and actions.  These are just some ideas to share with fellow Vermonters and advocates--like everything else, it’s an amalgamation informed by experiences, but these are my own and not edited or reviewed by other advocacy groups, local or otherwise.  There will be multiple parts in the mini-series, part two: flatlander fees free flat roads will be released Saturday, January 9.

PART ONE:  How do we deal with driving?

This is the #1 public safety concern for most Vermonters...House Speaker Shap Smith said as much himself on the opening day of the legislature, as did even some of the sponsors and vocal supporters of S.241, the latest legalization bill.  Admittedly, there are quite a few details to be filled in, but from a public safety and mainstream perspective, this is probably where we should all start.

The fact is that in Colorado (where there is much more driving and many more people on the roads), there has not been a significant increase in driving fatalities.  There also isn’t yet a reliable roadside “breathalyzer”-type device that is being used by law enforcement for roadside testing.  That’s mostly because testing your THC blood level doesn’t show how stoned you are--it’s just not like alcohol in that sense.  So, although it’s a box police would like to check, it’s not worth the time to talk about a nanogram limit for measuring impairment as it discriminates against patients without actually being useful...Some states have begun using cheek swabs and spit tests for quick roadside screening, because saliva doesn’t retain THC as long as blood does. But even infrequent smokers can test positive a full day after the munchies and euphoria have subsided. Medical marijuana patients and stoners who light up daily have almost no chance of passing a saliva test, though not all test brands are reliably accurate.

But there will still be more ‘stoned’ drivers, 

and police need to be able to keep our roads safe!

Probably, and Agreed.  But think about it: the police don’t pull over and catch drunk drivers based on smelling their breath when they speed by the cruiser.  Dangerous drivers get busted because impaired, erratic driving is spotted by an officer; or there’s a busted brake-light; or a vehicle ‘rolled’ a stop sign...the point is that cops are perfectly capable of spotting impaired drivers and that alcohol is still astronomically more dangerous than any/every other substance.  The fact is, we already issue cannabis DUI citations to drivers in VT without blood tests via officers qualified as Drug Recognition Experts.  It’s still more qualitative than quantitative, but it’s a standardized, and measurable process already being used to evaluate if drivers they stop are under the influence of (any) drugs.

So, to fund all of this, let’s allocate 25% of future tax revenues (incl. application, licensing fees, and a tax--either flat oz. tax a la Zuckerman proposal or a % at testing and % at P.O.S. similar to what VTCC has proposed) to law enforcement & criminal defense; including the budget for a cannabis control board if that’s ultimately overseen by DPS.  This tax revenue could be used specifically for the explicit purposes of:

  • Add more officers/troopers to patrol VT roads (not more $$ for overtime, more asses in cruisers; use as catalyst to diversify various forces)

  • More training for drug recognition experts for existing troopers, including specific lessons learned from enforcement in other states where recreational cannabis has been approved.  Skip the conjecture and help cops talk to other cops about solutions and specifics, not hypotheticals or misrepresented statistics.

  • Pay for more public defenders and court diversion, both to help ease burden of clemency offered in S.241, and to help smooth any transitional challenges.

  • Pay for more body cameras (and supporting services) statewide to enhance accountability for officers and potential offenders.

These are just few ideas--the greater point is that we control exactly how cannabis-derived revenue can be distributed specifically to address cannabis-derived issues when it comes to reasonable concerns from law enforcement.  In Colorado, when they had an extra $66million in tax revenues from 'recreational' cannabis, voters were able to decide how to spend the allocate the additional funds--they chose to first put $40million into school construction, along with youth leadership programs, substance abuse treatment, drug education, and law enforcement.

What else can we do with new Cannabis laws

to make the roads even more safe for Vermonters?

This is an opportunity to think systemically about transportation in VT and what the challenges will be on the ground here.  So let's start with tourists and lounges:  because tourists will be a large part of the market, and we're smartly providing a safe and regulated environment (via 'lounges') for people to consume, let's suggest that any/all licensed cannabis “Lounges” where adults 21+ may consume on-site MUST offer a reasonable shuttle service to a nearby transportation hub as an optional service for patrons.  A way to take stoned driving seriously from the start that integrates with the larger future paradigm, without tunnel vision.

Driving, youth, tourists, cultivation, business licenses...all of these are serious concerns that need to be addressed in order to move forward with meaningful cannabis reform.  There’s opportunity and momentum now, along with persistent questions that need consideration--let’s not let a lack of ideas be the weight that slows down real progress.  Stay tuned for additional segments of this series and contact your representatives today!

Discuss on social media (@vermontijuana) and online and email with comments or feedback