[ASK AN EXPERT] A Vermont Cannabis Breeder Clears the Air

Editors note: This op-ed was submitted to the Montpelier Times Argus by Joe Veldon Jr., M.S., Managing Partner of Righteous Roots Organics and resident of Washington County.  Since this summer, I've personally witnessed him sharing his expert opinions publicly and freely with fellow Vermonters across the state and testifying to the Senate.  He wrote this op-ed and shared because he was fed up with the irresponsible misinformation and fear-mongering op-eds printed in too many publications in our fair state.

Thank you Joe, and reminder to other Vermonters who care about the effects of this issue in and on our state, email Vermontijuana@gmail.com and we'll gladly share!

I would think the author of your op-ed “Let’s Get Real about Pot” might have gotten her hands on some of that famous Vermont cannabis, so far from the reality on the ground were her comments.  I found it refreshing that our Representatives included members of the public when discussing the complex and often fluid nature of this bill.  I was offended by the implication that is made throughout the piece that the Representatives were looking to allow the industry to self regulate in order for the State to reap the windfall at the expense of the general public. I also found it interesting that the author never mentioned any of the numerous and documented benefits of this plant; from hemp manufacturing to medicines for cancer, anxiety and epilepsy.  Not even a word about the Endocannabinoid system which is found in everyone!  One of the leaders in this field of medicine testified to the Government Operations committee.  I found this article blindly offered conjecture and opinion as fact with no link to the reality of what’s actually going on.

Full disclosure,  I’ve lived in Vermont for the past 25 years and plan on spending my next 25 here as well. That said, I currently work as a breeder for a Medical Cannabis company outside of Portland, Oregon.  My responsibilities have forced me to confront a myriad of complications that confront the citizens, law-makers and enforcement bodies of Oregon since their Recreation Law went into effect this past October.  I’m in the unique position to see first hand how states out west are confronting the different and often complicated and unexpected issues that have arisen.

As for Employers and Landlords, the No Accommodation Clause in Sections 2115 & 2116  allows them the flexibility to completely ‘opt out’ of Cannabis related activities.  And I must be misunderstanding your statement, “ The Benning-White regulations “allow” businesses, workplaces, landlords, innkeepers, schools and municipalities to prohibit or limit marijuana/cannabis production and use, and to impose their own penalties.”  Because nowhere in the Bill did I see a provision that allows for them to set their own penalties, like you erroneously stated.  As for policing ‘high’ students, customers and employees; don’t we do that now?

I would argue that the costs of appeals and prosecutions would remain about equal or be lower because the number of cases would be dramatically reduced. Much like the states that have a regulated market and who have not seen this dramatic increase in costs like the author misleading suggests.  ( http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/marijuana-arrests-colorado-after-passage-amendment-64 ) So if no other states are seeing this dramatic increase in costs why would Vermont?


I found the comment that “joints and edibles are becoming so yesterday replaced by concentrates that can be consumed by vape pens or applied topically to various body parts, such as “dab,” which would be allowable.”, to be laughable!  Joints, or ‘pre-rolls, pre-rolleds’ as they are currently called, are available at every dispensary and on days when they run specials they sell out — every time!  They also have one of the best profit margins for the dispensaries so the incentive for dispensary owners to continue selling them is high - pun intended.  As for edibles, it is the fastest growing segment in the cannabis industry ( https://www.mainstreet.com/article/marijuana-edibles-expand-hungry-market ) with many manufacturers seeing triple digit growth.  Even tomorrow they aren’t so yesterday.  As to the comments about tropicals and DAB, I’m not sure the author understands what these products actually are.  First, tropicals are used to treat skin cancer ( Rick’s Simpson Oil ) or for sore/tight muscles ( Bud Rub,http://budrub.com ) and aren’t used to get ‘high’.  DAB is a concentrate and not used topically like the author mistakenly suggests.  DAB is the byproduct of various extraction processes and it is vaped in order to inhale only the Cannabinoids and Terpenes without having to inhale the other plant parts or carbon that is produced when one smokes instead of vapes.


While it is true that there is currently no road side sobriety test for cannabis, they are in the pipeline, like this one  http://www.westword.com/news/marijuana-roadside-breathalyzer-is-it-on-the-way-and-will-it-work-7480109  and in states like Colorado that have a regulated markets they’re drastically increasing funding to train law enforcement to recognize ‘high’ drivers. These officers are specially trained to look for ‘high’ drivers through a series of field tests.  So while there is currently no road side test that shows intoxication definitively, they’re on the way.


I’m not sure if the author was present at the meetings but gifts of small amounts, like what is outlined in the Benning-White Bill, is treated similar to home alcohol production.  Or would the author have me discontinue handing out my home made, organic Lemonchella at Christmas time.  We are adults after all!


Conflating Cannabis with Heroin and Crack/Cocaine is an old, tired and thoroughly debunked theory that doesn’t deserve any attention except to say that this is a false and erroneous argument.  There are many studies, like this one ( http://www.unitedpatientsgroup.com/blog/2012/07/26/medical-marijuana-as-treatment-for-alcoholism-addiction/) who are using cannabis to treat addictions like alcoholism and Heroin addiction.  The exact opposite of what the author implied.  The author is also mistaken in her assertions that the cannabinoids stay in your system for weeks and peak after several hours.  They stay in your system for months and usually peak with in the first hour if inhaled.  Ingesting it and an individuals body chemistry determine duration and effect more so than inhaling.  My guess is she’s confusing dosing amounts with cannabinoid percentages.   The complexities of edibles, from dosing and homogenity to safety concerns and labeling are the reasons behind delaying the introduction of these products into the regulated market.  


The one area that I do agree with the author is on the topic of lounges.  But the Benning-White Bill specifically states that towns have the option to ‘opt-out’ thus giving the citizens of each town the ability to  decide for themselves weather or not to participate in the Cannabis industry — not at all as you portray it.  As for the authors statement about Colorado being the epicenter of Colorado’s illicit trade, of course it is.  Just as Vermont is the epicenter of Vermont’s illicit cannabis market.  And just so we’re working with facts, California and the multi billion dollar illicit cannabis that is produced there still dominates the nations illicit market.  Working out in these states, I get to see how the illicit market has been forced to change with the onset of regulated markets.  I’ve also seen how states and municipalities have been forced to adopt new zoning rules because of the emerging legal market.  I’m glad Vermont has considered these issues as it set about drafting our bill.


Real Costs associated with increased enforcement could easily be covered by revenue from the Bill and as far as legal costs, every state that now has a regulated market, like Vermont is looking to implement, has seen a dramatic decrease in cases, as cited above.  Thus it could be argued that the savings from less cases could also help offset any increase in spending on enforcement.  Drug treatment programs, for all types of drugs, including heroin and cocaine would also be offset by revenue from the Bennign-White Bill.  This is a cornerstone of every current legalization law and Vermont has been wise to adopt a similar approach.  And let’s not forget there were ZERO cannabis overdoses this past year, even with a legal market in four states.  Education programs of all types are also funded with revenue from this Bill, also a hallmark of other states Legalization Laws.  Finally, like most other states Vermont is discussing having a private industry do analyzation and have it overseen by the state.  There are many different methods thats states are trying.  I like this one because it still allows for competition and private innovation while still retaining checks and balances.  If were going to look at the real costs we must also look at the real benefits, something that was conspiciously left out of the previous article.. Here’s a real fact - Colorado has been forced to give a refund to all of it’s citizens because they were able to generate so much more revenue than they projected.  So they funded everything you just described and still had enough  left over to give to every resident!


There are social costs but they are by no means being hidden, traffic incidents, including fatalities, productivity concerns and long term health effects were all explored and addressed.  Meetings were held from St Johnsbury to Brattleboro where the public was welcome to discuss their thoughts.  Tourism has been booming in states like Colorado so again the statement about our tourism suffering as cannabis becomes regulated is not rooted in the reality on the slopes.  The statement that these costs have been passed over in silence is simply untrue - they have been discussed, at length, from lots of folks from all walks of life.   


Meaningful elevation of our arcane cannabis laws is taking place, the members of the Senate Government Ops committee should be commended for including testimony from social services, law enforcement, schools and municipalities as they deliberated the details of this Bill.  As the many benefits of this plant are being discovered and evidenced , it is changing our nations opinion of Cannabis.  Vermont should strive, as we do in so many other areas, to truly educate ourselves about the science and application of cannabis from sources that are direct, valid and experienced, and we should strive to not only participate in the regulated Cannabis market, but be a leader in it!