By Guy Page
Establishing a retail market for marijuana will lead to increased marketing, which will have an effect on Vermont youth consumption, Vermont Marijuana Commission Vice Chair Jake Perkinson said Tuesday at a VT Digger issues forum on S.54, the retail marijuana legalization bill now in Senate Judiciary Committee.
Both officials acknowledge the legal, regulated retail marijuana industry wants to attract new users from among Vermont’s youth.
Perkinson recommends the law ban candy-like, THC-concentrated “gummies” and also fund intensive youth education and prevention programs to hopefully offset the newly-created industry’s efforts to market young prospective customers.
“They [legal marijuana retailers] will want to have new customers, and new customers are youth,” Perkinson said. The state should deploy programs to “cut them off at the pass.” Vermont should spend about $8 million (about half of expected revenue) in education and prevention because, Perkinson said, “I don’t think you can say there will be no effect. The youth programs are an important part of it. It’s important to give young people the tools to evaluate what they are being exposed to.”
An audience member suggested Vermont impose retail sale without adding education or prevention programs. “Laissez-faire is what we have now,” Perkinson continued. “It’s not fair to people because there are effects. Any commercial activity has an effect.” Revenue should go to “effects that are caused by that activity.”
Chair Little also supports investing sales revenue in education and prevention. But unlike Perkinson, he seemed unsure about whether these programs would succeed. Rather, he urged people concerned about youth impacts to take a more direct approach: tell their legislators to oppose S.54. “Those who feel strongly should ask their legislators to vote against the bill,” he responded when Dr. Catherine Antley of Burlington asked why the Legislature should give the marijuana industry advertising the protection of the First Amendment.
Moments later Chair Little repeated his advice about urging legislators to oppose S54. During a State House Headliners Facebook Live interview, he said:
“If you approach this overall issue on its impact on children and youth – because this is not just about kids, this is going to affect brain development until age 25 — if that’s your main focus, you’re probably going to oppose the legislation,” Chair Little said. “If on the other hand your approach is sort of libertarian and ‘this is what everyone else is doing, why doesn’t Vermont get involved,’ you’re probably going to have a different perspective. I’ve been advocating that the state proceed with all due caution. Because this is a very big deal. I guess I’m going to leave it at that.”
Senate Judiciary is expected to discuss S.54 this week and “mark up” the bill for a committee vote.
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; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.