Members of the Marijuana Advisory Commission met for the first time Thursday in Waterbury. Administration officials say it’s now a matter of how, not if, Vermont legalizes marijuana.
VPR / By PETER HIRSCHFELD / Sept 28, 2017
Top officials in the administration of Republican Gov. Phil Scott say marijuana legalization is now inevitable in Vermont, and that they’ve been instructed to craft the framework for what will one day become an above-board cannabis market in the state.
Earlier this month, Scott signed an executive order creating a “Marijuana Advisory Commission.” He said at the time that Vermont “cannot ignore the fact that states around us have already legalized.” And he said the advisory commission “allows us to identify the best, most responsible path forward on this issue.”
At the commission’s first meeting Thursday morning, it became clearer where that path is headed when Commissioner of Taxes Kaj Samsom clarified the panel’s charge.
“It seems to me, and I just want to clarify for all of us and for the co-chairs of the commission, that this is not a study of whether to have legal marijuana, it’s a how-to,” Samsom said.
Scott’s general counsel Jaye Pershing Johnson immediately responded by saying, ‘Yes, that’s the direction.”
“We’re moving forward,” Johnson said. “We’re looking for consensus recommendations from the subcommittees and consideration by the commission on the best way for Vermont to get there.”
Samsom is serving as chair of the commission’s “taxation and regulation” subcommittee. In a meeting with that group later in the morning, he expounded on the commission’s controversial task.
“As I talk about this professionally and among friends [about] my role in this, it inevitably leads to a debate about the wisdom of legalizing marijuana,” Samsom said. “And we have a lot of work to do, and to the extent that we start to kind of move into a debate about the wisdom of whether we should be doing this, we’re wasting our time frankly.”
“My understanding from the governor’s office, and the executive order … is that this is how to get to yes safely and responsibly,” Samsom said.
Those words were difficult ones to hear for Dr. Jill Rinehart, a primary care pediatrician who serves on the Marijuana Advisory Commission.
Rinehart, who also serves as the president of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has advocated strenuously against legalization. She said that effort now appears to be a lost cause.
“We are kind of facing this public desire for something to change with relation to marijuana,” Rinehart said. “But I think there’s a lot of unanticipated consequences we are now learning so much about.”
Rinehart said those lessons are arriving from other states that have legal, commercial marijuana markets, like Colorado, California and Washington. Rinehart said she’s talked with physician colleagues in those states.
“It hasn’t been a pretty thing for them, in terms of the safety of their patients,” Rinehart said.
Asked whether she thinks it’s possible to legalize marijuana in Vermont without compromising public health or safety, she said, “No.”
But she said she still plans to engage in the process.
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