By Guy Page
S.54, the Senate tax and regulate marijuana legalization bill, passed the Vermont Senate 23-5 Feb. 28.
Voting no were Sens. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, Richard Mazza, D-Chittenden/Grand Isle, James McNeil, R-Rutland, and Alice Nitka, D-Windsor. Absent were Sens. Chris Pearson and Robert Starr. All other senators voted yes.
The Legislature is on its Town Meeting Week break. S.54 does not appear on the Tuesday, March 12 Notice Calendar for the House. Some Statehouse insiders say S.54 will go first to the Government Operations Committee, because ‘tax and regulate’ would require extensive an “government operation” to oversee marijuana cultivation and sale. Committee chair Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas of Bradford and four other Gov Ops members (Hal Colston, Mike Mrowicki, Bob Hooper, and Warren Kitzmiller) are among the many co-sponsors of H.196, the House version of tax and regulate marijuana legalization.
Crossover not a problem for S.54
S.54 has survived Crossover. According to the last page on the March 12 House calendar, all Senate/House bills except Ways and Means and Appropriations bills must be voted out of its last committee of reference by March 15 in order to be passed by the full Senate/House and then sent to the other chamber. And perhaps just in time for the House’s discussion of S.54, a high-profile visitor will be coming to Vermont to discuss tax and regulate’ legalization.
Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper to visit March 23
A few days after VT Digger announced his scheduled March 23 appearance at the Flynn in Burlington to speak on cannabis and economic development, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) declared himself a candidate for president. The event is now billed as part of VT Digger’s “Preview 2020” presidential campaign series — which will include (word has it) an invite to Pres. Donald Trump and the only known GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
Don’t look for Hickenlooper to say much in the way of criticism about Colorado-style tax and regulate. Presidential candidates are rarely critical of high-profile programs over which they had oversight. More evidence of his visit’s pro-legalization tone: two of the four event sponsors include marijuana industry consultant Canna Planners and the pro-legalization website Heady Vermont. The other two sponsors sell cultivation products.
Notwithstanding the pro-T&R leaning of the event, tickets are free and are apparently still available. Headliners asked several Coloradans familiar with Rocky Mountain ‘tax and regulate’ to suggest questions Vermonters in the audience could ask Hickenlooper, if given the opportunity. The suggested questions below address just three of the many areas of concern they raised.
Revenue or cost center? Based on your experience in Colorado, will tax and regulate become a revenue center to Vermont, will it be revenue neutral, or will it become a cost center? A Nov. 15, 2018 Centennial Institute study finds that “For every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization. Costs related to the healthcare system and from high school drop-outs are the largest cost contributors.”
Impact on violent crime? Can Vermont expect a similar increase in violent crime that coincided with Colorado marijuana legalization? In April 2018, you told CNN you would consider recriminalizing marijuana if it could be linked to increased rates of violent crime in Colorado — up 12.5 percent at a time when the national rate was down five percent. You told CNN, “Trust me, if the data was coming back and we saw spikes in violent crime, there would be a lot of people looking for that bottle and figuring out how we get the genie back in. It doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m not ruling it out.” And you also told CNN, “This is one of the great social experiments of the last 100 years. We have to all keep an open mind.” In September of 2018, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported that violent crime had risen 25 percent since 2013. Earlier this year Alex Berenson’s best-selling book “Tell Your Children” reported on the link between heavy pot use, psychosis, and violence. Governor, what does your open mind tell you now?
Impact on teen suicide? Colorado’s teen suicide rate is twice the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Also, marijuana is the most prevalent substance found in completed teen suicides. What advice would you give to Vermont lawmakers based on what you have learned about the influence of marijuana on teen suicide?
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.