By Guy Page
A national commercial cannabis group with funding ties to politically progressive billionaire financier George Soros and other wealthy activists on Tuesday announced a poll claiming 76% of Vermonters support commercial cannabis.
The release of the poll follows a Feb. 10 poll by anti-commercial cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, showing only a third of Vermonters support commercial cannabis.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) website says it “was founded in January 1995.” The Washington Times listed Soros as an MPP donor. As of 2014 Soros had spent $80 million pushing marijuana legalization, funding the MPP and other groups including the ACLU (which has a Vermont chapter, albeit with no known Soros connection) and the Drug Policy Alliance. Other MPP funders and leaders include media mogul and MPP vice-chair Jeff Zucker, hotel heir Joby Pritzker (cousin of Michigan governor and marijuana supporter J.B. Pritzer), cannabis industry leader Troy Dayton (Chair), investor Sheri Orlowitz, and Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis.
In Vermont, the Marijuana Policy Project donated $1,000 last October to the Vermont Democratic Party, according to secretary of state records. It also has a strong social media presence in news, commentary and advertising. And like SAM-VT it publishes polls – although its poll results received far better play in the Vermont and national press than SAM-VT’s.
The Marijuana Policy Project has nine registered Vermont lobbyists: Matt Simon, Jessica Oski, Christina Reiter, Rebecca Ramos, David Mickenburg, Adam Necrason, Laura Subin, Ingrid Malmgren, and Natalie Silver.) Total lobbyist compensation reported by the Marijuana Policy Project in the 2019-20 biennium to date is $56,405.
At least one veteran State House lobbyist, Mickenberg, has ties to both the Marijuana Policy Project and Soros’ Drug Policy Alliance. According to a biography for a 2015 Burlington cable access TV news appearance, Mickenberg “spent six years at two programs started by George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Drug Policy Alliance and the After School Corporation.” According to Secretary of State records, neither Mickenberg nor any other lobbyist is employed by the Drug Policy Alliance, although the national organization has reported extensively on Vermont’s legalization efforts in recent years.
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday and House Education Chair Kate Webb (D-Shelburne) on Tuesday discussed abuse prevention and treatment in schools if S.54, commercial cannabis, becomes law. House Ways & Means approved a six percent sales tax on commercial cannabis. The sales tax by law must be spent on ‘education’ – but whether it would all be spent on marijuana abuse prevention and treatment is up to Appropriations.
Gov. Scott has said he will not sign a commercial cannabis bill lacking sufficient prevention and treatment for youth. The Governor’s Marijuana Commission has recommended one full-time school substance use professional for each 250 student cases, regional prevention networks, and a public awareness program about driving under influence of THC before any cannabis is sold.
While details about prevention under S.54 are sketchy at this point, the need for prevention is not. “Marijuana use is a significant public health problem in Vermont, and it is getting worse,” Kelly Dougherty, deputy commissioner of Health, told Appropriations Feb. 14. Dept. of Health statistics show use of marijuana by Vermonters 12 years old or older has risen 50% since 2013, the year possession of marijuana possession was decriminalized. Vermont’s consumption rate is tops in the nation.
Vermont municipalities have been stripped of a local option tax included in earlier versions of S.54, and they’re not happy about it. Unlike other states, Vermont is poised to dump all of the tax proceeds into state coffers, leaving local government uncompensated for permitting and public safety work.
“The [Ways & Means] committee seemed to believe that towns and cities in Vermont – unlike any other state – will not incur significant [costs] from hosting retail operations and should not need to reap benefits from any generated revenue to cover those costs,” the Vermont League of Cities and Towns stated in its Feb. 7 published report.
The bill at present may not give municipalities money, but it does give them more power to decide whether or not to allow marijuana commercial operations. The bill requires an affirmative “opt-in” by voters before commercial operations can be approved.
A Colorado doctor will speak at three separate events Friday about the impacts of legalization on his home state. Dr. Ken Finn will share details about the commercialization of cannabis in Colorado and the health and safety implications for Vermont 7 am at Capitol Plaza, noon at Capitol Plaza, and 6-8 pm at UVM Alumni House in Burlington. All events (including food and drink) are free and are sponsored by Physicians Families and Friends for a Better Vermont, rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s likely Finn will also address a grassroots ballot effort to de-legalize commercial cannabis in Colorado.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports.