I smiled as I listened to a fellow legislator talk about how being a legislator was hard. He lamented about how he had always attempted to help people, to make them happy. Being a legislator he said ultimately puts you in a position where some people are not going to be happy with you. You have to make decisions and not everyone is going to like them.
I sure could relate to what my friend was saying. After weeks of contemplation I had come to the conclusion that legalizing marijuana would be the better thing to do than living with the status quo. I had heard from some people who flat out said to me, “if you vote for marijuana I will never vote for you gain”. Others had called me to say,” If you don’t support marijuana I will never vote for you”. And, others just weighed in without threats, and rendered their opinion.
Interestingly, the research I received on the pros and cons of the marijuana issue were all over the place. Material from physicians would describe in detail how marijuana was a gateway drug leading to worse abuse. Academic articles submitted by others would explain a different outcome. For every opinion or claim, there was another to refute it.
I determined that all I could do would be to listen closely to every opinion, read every message sent to me, and then exercise my judgement, given how passionate many were on both sides of the issue, and the conflicting information. I finally came to a decision after weeks of contemplation. I scribbled down some comments and went to the State House and thought perhaps depending on how the debate went, I would offer a few words on this issue. After several speeches against legalization the debate seemed very one sided so I figured I would offer my comments. Here is the text of my speech, to help explain to people why in the end I supported legalization of marijuana:
Madam Speaker, let’s assume everything we have heard about the ills of marijuana is correct. Every bit of it. That it is a gateway to worse drugs, that it leads to testicular cancer, it causes crime, and much more. Assume it is all spot on accurate, despite much information in many instances to the contrary.
In my mind, if you want all of those bad things to continue, simply do nothing, leave things as they are.
If you want some two hundred million dollars leaving the Vermont economy through the black market every single year, instead of staying to recirculate among Vermonters, hold steady, do nothing.
If, on the other hand, you want more prevention efforts, more enforcement efforts where they’re actually needed, more treatment options for people struggling with addiction, choose a different course.
I am reminded of the old adage, “if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got”.
I do not want what we have always gotten Madam Speaker.
I do not want business as usual, I do not want complacency when it comes to the safety of Vermonters.
I do not want the upwards of eighty thousand Vermonters who use marijuana regularly driving on our roads, though I know we cannot legislate that away any more than we can drinking while driving, but I am hopeful we can diminish it.
I want a regulated market Madam Speaker where the bad actors who sell this today are replaced with responsible, regulated, locally owned businesses that check ID, label their products, and are subject to inspection.
I want stepped up prevention, the same way we have fought mightily for smoking cessation efforts, and made dramatic progress, using cigarette taxes to fund programs that cut the teen smoking rate roughly in half.
I want hard working Vermonters to sell this crop and make a return off their land instead of criminals walking away with the cash.
If we continue to do nothing, we get none of that. If we legalize we have a chance to make things better.
The eras of Richard Nixon and Nancy Reagan have come and gone. The days of mass incarceration and “Just Say No” have failed us. As other states and countries move to legalize, it is in our best interest to do the same.
I woke up the next morning to find my picture on the cover of the Burlington Free Press with a “Got Pot” sticker on it. I simply had an opinion I wanted to share, after much soul searching. I did not go to Montpelier to be the poster child for pot.
I had hoped this would be my last article for this session. As of this writing we are hoping to conclude next week, if we can agree on a way to lower property taxes. More on that subject next week.