Commercial pot not ‘progressive’ on clean energy, social justice

By Guy Page

Most supporters of legal, commercial marijuana who self-identify as “progressives” genuinely care about climate change and economic and racial justice. But when these values conflict with the legal, profitable cultivation and sale of marijuana, the marijuana industry sends them to the back of the bus.

The Vermont Progressive Party platform states flatly, “We believe in doing everything in our power to address, mitigate, and even reverse human induced climate change.” Divest fossil fuel stocks from state pension funds, even if retired teachers and state employees may receive less? Regrettable, but let’s do it. Carbon tax? Of course, because, remember: “We believe in doing everything in our power.”

In Colorado, half of all new electricity demand in greater Denver has come from legalized marijuana cultivation. Four percent of all Denver area electricity — one watt in every 25 — goes to marijuana industry, Colorado Public Radio reported this year. These industrial “grow” facilities and their lights, fans, heaters and air-conditioners consume a spectacular amount of energy. Some grows even emit Co2 on purpose. Propane-powered CO2 generators pump tons of the greenhouse gas into the greenhouse atmosphere. Plants love CO2. It makes them grow bigger and faster.

Anything for a buck

When I question pro-legalization, energy-conserving legislators about creating a Frankenstein monster of energy demand and CO2 emissions, they bob and weave. One legislator asked me to compare grow power costs with the cost of brewing and refrigerating beer – “hey, they do it, too.” Another senior senator just shrugged and said of the huge demand for new power, “we can absorb it.”

If “we” are a state committed to greenhouse gas reduction, that’s a hard statement to understand from one of our self-professed energy leaders.

This new energy-hog industry will also – if common sense and precedent are any guide – target young, poor minorities, resulting in increased addiction, homelessness, and arrests.

Commercial pot addicts young people

Success in the commercial pot industry depends on addicting young people. The marijuana industry must create addicts (who consume 80 percent of product) to realize any profit. They create addicts by selling concentrated dangerous dabs and selling to kids. Beau Kilmer, author of the Rand Report to the Vermont Legislature, said in July 2015:

Daily and the near daily users account for 80% of all the [alcohol/drug/tobacco/] expenditures. For profit companies can be expected to focus on creating and maintaining these heavy users; dependence is good for the bottom line. Our free speech doctrine makes it very hard to restrict advertising and marketing [to children.]

Yes, but kids smoke pot now, so will commercialization make any difference in consumption? The conclusion from Colorado data says “yes.” The Rocky Mountain State has the nation’s highest teen (and adult) use of marijuana. It didn’t used to be No. 1, but six years of commercialization later, it is now.

Commercial pot markets young minorities: In Massachusetts, wealthy towns are invoking the local option to ban marijuana stores. Poor towns, stuck with empty storefronts and budget deficits, are issuing licenses, the Boston Globe said. A disproportionate number of Vermont’s minorities live in poor communities. Would Shelburne allow a pot dispensary next to the Country Store and the trendy boutiques? Don’t hold your breath. If Massachusetts is any guide, it’s far more likely that merchants every day would be promoting addictive marijuana to young, low-income, minority passers-by in Winooski, Barre, Rutland, and the Old North End of Burlington.

Legalization supporters say the State of Vermont will prevent illegal underage sales of marijuana, just as it does with cigarettes and beer. However, Vermont liquor control officials are wishy-washy about convenience store “stings.” A young State investigator posing as young buyer cannot even lie to a store clerk that he/she is of legal age! Other states have much better prevention records than Vermont, which (according to one longtime critic/lobbyist I know) pays too much attention to the beer/tobacco/grocery business lobbyists and too little to protecting children. Expect little effective point-of-sale oversight from Vermont’s regulators.

Commercial pot leads to increased marijuana-related arrests of young minorities

In Colorado and Washington D.C., arrests for public and/or underage consumption of marijuana are way up since “legalization,” and in Washington D.C. especially among young minority males. Meanwhile, black market trafficking continues to thrive.

Commercial pots increases homelessness

In Colorado, homelessness has risen 8 percent since legalization, with at least some of this increase attributed to legalization, the Denver Post reported this year. Homelessness is already high among young, poor, minority status, and/or drug-using Vermonters. If Colorado is any indicator, legalization will only make this problem worse.

Once an industry becomes legally licensed, it’s hard to stop its abuses. One Vermont legalization opponent noted recently, “Vermont cannot raise the tax of alcohol; most recently they cannot even tax the opioid industry. Short of a lawsuit convicting them of racketeering, we will not be able to regulate or stop advertising to kids. It is against state law to target kids in Colorado yet it is still rampant there.”

Many progressive-minded people understand these problems. They are uneasy. Let’s hope their unease leads to better protection of two precious gifts that will outlast us: our climate and our children.

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.

Image courtesy of EPA/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

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