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Area Officials React to Rejection of Marijuana Legalization

  • As State's Attorney in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 19, 2011, Robert Sand speaks with the media following a court hearing. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Phillip Kasten



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 25, 2017

White River Junction — Gov. Phil Scott’s decision to veto legislation that would have made small amounts of recreational marijuana legal for adults drew mixed reactions on Wednesday from Upper Valley residents long involved in the criminal justice system.

“I think it was the most hopeful bad news I have heard in a while,” said former Windsor County State’s Attorney Bobby Sand, who attended Scott’s news conference in Montpelier. “I walked away as optimistic as I’ve ever been that Vermont might be the first state to legislate a change.”

Sand, a longtime proponent for marijuana reform who said prohibition is the wrong approach, said the issue for him isn’t the substance itself, but a matter of freedom.

“I don’t think the government belongs in our doctor’s offices, bedrooms, living rooms and in our secure garden plots,” said Sand, a Woodstock resident. “I’m optimistic that by the end of June we might have a law that celebrates and embraces that freedom.”

The Vermont Legislature could review the bill during a veto session next month. Scott asked lawmakers to make changes to parts of the bill, including rewriting sections that pertain to public and youth safety.

“If the Legislature agrees to make the changes I am seeking ... we can move this discussion forward in a way that ensures the public health and safety of our communities and our children continue to come first,” Scott said in his announcement.

Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten, who is strongly against marijuana legalization, said he was “very grateful” for the veto. His concerns, especially as they pertain to minors and low-income families, won’t be alleviated through any bill revisions, he said.

“I don’t think this is the right choice for Vermont,” Kasten said. “I know my opinion is not a popular one, but I base it on my experience; I base it on the families I serve.”

He said marijuana legalization would put further strain on the “human services crisis” in Vermont, and add to an already high truancy rate.

“We don’t have the infrastructure or the tax base to respond to meet the needs,” Kasten said, adding in every heroin overdose case, there is the presence of alcohol, tobacco and/or marijuana. “We are normalizing a behavior that is destroying a generation.”

The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police in the past also has spoken out against legalization efforts, citing public safety and other concerns.

The fact that the legislation isn’t dead yet also didn’t sit well with groups against legalization, such as SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“We commend Governor Scott for vetoing S. 22 and backing parents, teachers, doctors and law enforcement across Vermont who are working each day to make our communities healthier and safer,” the group said in a prepared statement. “But our work is not over. There will be a special session next month to discuss a path forward. We will be working very closely with our allies to make sure any piece of legislation does not allow ‘Big Marijuana’ to come to Vermont.”

On the other hand, pro-marijuana groups, such as the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, said they were “disappointed” by the news of the veto, but called Scott’s offer of a path forward “a huge leap” in the right direction.

“We are disappointed by the governor’s decision to veto this widely supported legislation, but we are very encouraged by the governor’s offer to work with legislators to pass a legalization bill during the summer veto session,” Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a prepared statement.

Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill supports a regulated marijuana market, along the lines of the Colorado model, where revenue from that market funds prevention education for youth and traffic enforcement.

He said he views the topic of marijuana as two-fold: “First, whether individuals should be able to consume substances in their own homes as consenting adults ... and whether they should be able to engage in conduct that endangers others, such as driving under the influence,” Cahill said. “The good news is the General Assembly will now have the opportunity to attempt to give Vermonters this freedom, while funding efforts to ensure that Vermonters make the right decisions.”

Jordan Cuddemi be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.