By Guy Page
As Vermont prepares for the July 1 legalization of “personal possession” of marijuana and next year’s looming legislative battle over full commercial cultivation and sale, there’s more bad news about the impact of marijuana use on suicide and traffic fatalities.
Marijuana most-present drug in blood of Colorado teen suicides: In a study of toxicology reports of teen suicide victims in Colorado, marijuana is the drug most often found in completed teen suicides, according to a statement by Dr. Kenneth Finn, of El Paso County Colorado. Marijuana was found in 17.2 percent of the victims – less than one in six. The next most-present was alcohol, at 13.9 percent. Both marijuana and alcohol are depressants, delivering “lows” after the “high.”
Dr. Finn cautions states considering legalizing marijuana: “With the normalization of drug use comes wider acceptance, and therefore, more teen use. Adults and community leaders who normalize and support teen marijuana use are most likely to blame for this terrible statistic.”
Vermont already faces a suicide rate of 17.2 people per 100,000, 33 percent higher than the national average of 12.9/100,000, according to 2016 Vermont Health Department statistics. Drug abuse is listed as a major factor, although marijuana in particular is not referenced.
Traffic fatalities up 12 percent on “4/20”: A study reported Feb. 12, 2018, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found a 12 percent increase in traffic fatalities in the evening of April 20, the annual “High Holiday” on which pot smokers gather en masse to get high. The study examined a quarter-century of U.S. data, beginning when the magazine High Times proclaimed the first 4/20 day. The increase in traffic fatalities was comparable to the increase seen on Super Bowl Sunday. The study noted, “Policy makers may wish to consider these risks when liberalizing marijuana laws, paying particular attention to regulatory and enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.”
Vermont is struggling to find “enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.” There is universal admission that saliva tests detect THC but cannot measure impairment. A House proposal to institute a roadside saliva test will be challenged by the Vermont ACLU if it becomes law, WCAX reported Feb. 15. The “drug recognition evaluation” process also has yet to result in a guilty verdict at a contested trial in Vermont.
Legal pot hinders cocaine, meth, heroin discovery during police stops – Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison told weekly newspaper Seven Days (Feb. 14) that roadside interdiction of cocaine, meth and heroin dealers may suffer under the new personal possession law: “A lot of times, our interdiction work starts at roadside stops with the odor of marijuana, and very frequently, we find other drugs – heroin, meth, cocaine. It remains to be seen what the impact will be. We’re concerned.”
And with good reason; for example, most police dogs aren’t trained to distinguish between pot and other drugs. Rich Gauthier, executive director of the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, told Seven Days: “if I were a drug dealer, once marijuana is legalized, if a dog is going around the car and hits, the first thing I’d say to an officer is, ‘oh yeah, I’ve got some marijuana,’ and show him the bag and get away with the heroin and cocaine in the car.” Meanwhile, the Vermont ACLU has said it will challenge marijuana as a justification for police searches. Ultimately, judges will decide.
Legislation affirms municipal power to enact nuisance ordinance against pot odor – H.819, which would “clarify that a municipality may adopt a nuisance ordinance regarding odors from marijuana consumption on private property,” is now in the care of Government Operations, the committee that typically studies “local government” bills. The bill, sponsored by St. Johnsbury representatives Janssen Wilhoit and Scott Beck, permits a municipality to adopt “a civil ordinance to provide additional penalties for consumption of marijuana in a public place or to define as a public nuisance any significant odor that emanates from a person’s property due to marijuana consumption on the property.”
Chittenden County to rake in carbon tax proceeds at expense of rest of Vermont
Wealthy Chittenden County will reap a windfall from the proposed ESSEX carbon tax (H.791). The bill would tax the use of fossil fuels, including oil, natural gas and propane for thermal energy (mostly home heat). Consumers with high thermal energy expenses will get socked hard. Consumers with low thermal energy expenses will pay less in carbon taxes. Revenue will be rebated to electricity bills, without regard to the amount of carbon tax paid. It’s a classic “carrot and stick” behavior modification bill, rewarding “good” behavior and punishing “bad.”
Guess which area of Vermont has the lowest thermal energy expenditure? According to an Efficiency Vermont map, the area with the lowest spending on thermal heat (show in blue) is Greater Burlington – a.k.a. the wealthiest part of Vermont. By contrast, the highest thermal energy expenditure is in the farm towns of northern Addison County, and in rural Orange and Windsor counties. These towns, and virtually every other town in Vermont, will be paying the lion’s share of the home-heat component of the carbon tax revenues. Beneficiaries will be the relatively well-paid residents of the energy-efficient apartment, condo, and modern single-family homes of Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, Colchester, Shelburne Williston and neighboring towns. Few of the H.791 sponsors represent “thermal hot spot” map towns.
Transportation fuel also would be taxed. Chittenden County, with its robust public transportation system, compact car-friendly roads, and relatively short commutes, also spends less per capita on transportation fossil fuels than the rest of the state, according to another map in the Efficiency Vermont report.
For more information on the ESSEX carbon tax, see an Ethan Allen Institute study compiled by economist Jonathan Lesser, former policy analyst for the Vermont Department of Public Service, and can be seen at the EAI website.
Headliners was heartened to learn Thursday from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger that one of its ideas for market-friendly emissions reduction — a bike-sharing system, similar to the rent-a-bikes in Montreal and Boston — will become a reality in Burlington this summer.
Family planning crucial to greenhouse gas reduction, S. Burlington legislator says – On Wednesday Feb. 14, Rep. Ann Pugh (S. Burlington), chair of the House Human Services Committee, introduced a group of Planned Parenthood volunteers on the floor of the House of Representatives, saying: “Madame Speaker did you know that educating young girls and access to and use of family planning are number 6 & 7 in the top 100 solutions to global climate change? It’s for that reason I’m pleased to introduce to you a group of Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund activists and volunteers visiting the State House today from all over the State. They are here to advocate for H.869, insurance coverage for over the counter contraceptives [and] an Equal Rights Amendment to the Vermont State Constitution.”
In an email to Headliners, Rep. Pugh explained the “number 6 & 7” ranking: “As part of a national conference on climate change held at UVM, I heard an internationally recognized scientist and editor of the book, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” My comment was drawn from his talk and reviewing this book which outlines and measures various actions. And number 6 and 7 are universal education of girls through secondary school and access to and use of family planning. More CO2 emissions avoided than for other actions (such as wind mills, etc).”
The ERA initiative to which Rep. Pugh refers is SR11, a “Senate resolution encouraging its members, in 2019, to initiate an amendment to the Vermont Constitution regarding equal rights,” was co-sponsored by all 30 members of the Vermont Senate. The text reads, “Equal protection under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of race, sex, age, religion, creed, color, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin,” according to a Feb. 14 WPTZ news report. An amendment to the constitution requires a citizen vote, which could happen no sooner than 2022. Vermont citizens rejected an ERA amendment in 1986.
H.404, Medicaid funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives, was ranked by Chair Pugh’s committee earlier this month as its highest-priority bill of the session, said Jennifer Stella of Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice. According to her rueful, first-person report, only one committee member, Rep. Doug Gage (Rutland City), voted for a bill backed by VCCC: H.247, to require a Health Dept. report on adverse reactions to immunizations.
Patient Choices Vermont promotes death by lethal drugs at Montpelier Senior Center event
The organization that pushed for Act 39, Vermont’s physician-prescribed death law, is now actively promoting death by lethal drugs to Vermont’s senior citizens.
According to a news release published last week on the Vermont Business Magazine website, Patient Choices Vermont promoted an all-day Saturday February 17 event at the Montpelier Senior Center to coach Vermonters about “medically assisted death.”
The “free educational symposium” entitled “End of Life Choice: Options and Autonomy” included a documentary film, and “the intimate sharing of two personal stories” about Vermonters who died after taking legally-prescribed lethal drugs. A spokesperson for the Vermont Ethic Network would discuss physician-assisted death and advanced directives.
The final agenda item cited in the press release was “how to talk to a doctor” by Patient Choices Vermont director Betsy Walkerman.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.