Pubdate: Fri, 23 May 2014
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2014 Rutland Herald
Author: Neal P. Goswami
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Advocates for legalizing marijuana are touting a new poll released 
this week that shows a majority of Vermonters support legalizing and 
taxing the drug.

The Castleton Polling Institute, part of Castleton State College, 
released poll results Wednesday showing that 57.2 percent of 
Vermonters favor legalizing and taxing marijuana similar to alcohol.

The results show 34.3 percent oppose it. Another 8.5 percent remain unsure.

The poll has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana 
Policy Project, said people are displeased with the prohibition of 
marijuana. He said the drug is viewed by the public as a less harmful 
substance than alcohol and people want it to be treated the same way.

"Just about anyone who reviews the evidence objectively will arrive 
at the conclusion that prohibition has failed, and it's time for a 
more sensible approach," Simon said.

"Regulating marijuana like alcohol would replace the underground 
market with licensed, tax-paying businesses," he said. "There is a 
reason why we don't see copious amounts of alcohol being illegally 
produced and trafficked around Vermont - because it's regulated."

The poll could help advocates and some lawmakers push for 
legalization during the next legislative biennium. Simon said his 
group sees Vermont as one of the next states to legalize marijuana, 
perhaps as soon as next year.

"We certainly think that Vermont has been ahead of the curve, 
nationally, when it comes to marijuana policy," he said. "It was one 
of the first states to pass medical marijuana policy."

The state has already decriminalized the possession of small amounts 
of marijuana, doing so in 2013. And this year, the Vermont 
Legislature approved legislation that includes a study to evaluate 
the fiscal impact of making marijuana legal.

"Since Colorado and Washington passed their legalization and ballot 
initiatives ... there's been significant interested from lawmakers in 
all 50 states, but certainly in Vermont. We saw that with the 
amendment being tacked on," Simon said. "The fact that lawmakers 
chose to study this issue without any prompting from us, we certainly 
applaud that."

Marijuana is already widely available in Vermont, but on the black 
market, Simon said.

"If we accept that reality, we have to decide where that marijuana 
should come from," he said.

Legalization is "a more sensible policy than probation," but may take 
officials some time to figure out how to develop a way to regulate 
it, Simon said.

"I think with 57 percent, and only 34 percent opposition, it's clear 
that people want this issue to be taken seriously," he said. 
"Assuming that this study demonstrates what I believe it will 
demonstrate, which is that regulation is working in Colorado, I 
believe there will be many in the Vermont Legislature that want to 
pass this law in 2015."

Simon said his group plans to be in the state soon to help organize support.

"I will be in Vermont, not regularly, but I believe this summer and 
fall we'll do some public forum type things to try to get more of a 
grassroots component and educate voters," he said. "There's a lot of 
interest in what's happening out west."

Gov. Peter Shumlin has said repeatedly that he is in no hurry to take 
the next step in Vermont. Shumlin said he would prefer to see how 
things develop in Colorado and Washington. Marijuana remains illegal 
at the federal level.

Shumlin's office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom