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A version of this story appeared in the Hardwick Gazette
by Michael Bielawski
HARDWICK –State representative Joseph Troiano, D-Caledonia will moderate a public forum on marijuana legalization for Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Town House. Four states, which are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have already legalized via public referendum. Vermont is attempting to become the first state to do it by legislation.
“Well I organized it, and I guess I will be the moderator,” said Troiano. “I’ve heard from senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and he said he plans to attend. I invited senator David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden). He was the sponsor in the Senate of the legalization bill. He replied that he put it on his calendar so I hope we’ll see him.”
Others yet to confirm include rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, who is the sponsor of the House Bill H277, of which Trioano is a co-signer. He also intends to invite Sen. Jane Kitchel D-Caledonia.
“First of all I think it’s important to have community input of issues such as this,” said Troiano. “I think we need to know who’s for it and why and who’s against it and why. I think our citizens will bring good experience and information to the table.
“My position is that criminalizing and prohibition has not worked. My position and I think the position of the legislature is let’s take a look at how we can deal with this.”
He wants people to know there will be protections in H277.
“Some people may be able to weigh their concerns like safety of the product regarding pesticides and other dangerous chemicals,” he said. “There are some advertising prohibitions in the bill and other aspects which address the concerns of the people.”
Debbie Haskins of Safe Approach to Marijuana Vermont has been an adamant opponent to marijuana legalization. Two weeks ago she suggested to Seven Days that legalization is not inevitable. Her website sam-vt.org cites studies alleging persistent marijuana use can lower IQ up to eight points. Troiano is familiar with her.
“I’ve been to two events that she’s been at,” he said. “She’s a very devout opponent of this bill, of any bill. I don’t know how to reach her so I don’t know if she will appear. We debated at Lyndon State a few weeks ago at a forum there and we just see it very differently.”
Haskins could not be reached for comment. Local lawmakers Benning and Kitchel were also requested for comment without response before deadline.
Troiano says some argue to him there is no need for legalization because having up to an ounce is already decriminalized and there is medical marijuana. Trioano noted cultivation is still a problem.
“What we continue to see is people almost exclusively without criminal records who are getting busted for several plants and facing felony charges,” he said.
A new development regarding medical use is in late August this year the National Cancer Institute acknowledged the main ingredient, THC, “may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.” This claim had been repeated over the years by Harvard University, Madrid University, and others going back to at least 1974 at the Medical College of Virginia.
Marijuana proponents argue legalization gets it off the black market. According to a 2010 Bloomberg News report, the US black market for street drugs is deeply entrenched in large US financial institutions. The report states from 2004 to 2008 Wachovia bank, today a part of Wells Fargo, laundered $420 billion in drug money, for which they were fined $160 million or about .04 percent of the haul.
How much of that money was for marijuana vs. cocaine and other drugs is vague at best. The estimates of the size of the US marijuana black market range anywhere from $10 to $120 billion according to the Washington Post.
Other cons about the black market, according to the aforementioned Bloomberg report from 2006 to 2010 around 22,000 people were killed in drug cartel related violence near the US/Mexican border. According to Center for Economic and Policy Research, roughly 60 percent all federal inmates are nonviolent drug offenders accounting for about $17 billion in annual costs.
One observation by a task force sent last year from Vermont to Colorado was the state failed to get it off the black market because the taxes were too high to wipe it out. They tax the grower, the seller and the buyer and the state collected $70 million in revenue, easily topping alcohol’s $40 million haul.
Some have pointed out to Troiano that marijuana related car accidents have risen. He responded was there is no definitive connection at this point that the THC in the driver’s blood is causing the accidents. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, marijuana can stay in someone’s blood up to 27 hours after use.
Another wrinkle in marijuana regulation is there was never a Constitutional amendment for marijuana prohibition when it started in 1937. When alcohol was made illegal during the Prohibition, there were Constitutional amendments both at its start in 1920 and again at the finish in 1933.
At the federal level, Troiano said there are two bills in the US Congress, one in each house to take marijuana off the US schedule 1 list. Progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Oct. 28 stated he supports the move. President Obama has advised his attorney general Loretta Lynch not to bother states that have moved forward with legalization.