Pubdate: Sat, 09 Apr 2016
Source: Bennington Banner (VT)
Copyright: 2016 by MediaNews Group, Inc.
Authors: Dave Silberman and Ben Brown


When the two House committees announced the March 31 public hearing 
on cannabis legalization, expectations were that the prohibitionists 
would outnumber legalization supporters by a wide margin. After all, 
opponents like SAM-VT are well organized, and supporters tend to be 
younger, less politically engaged, and less able to take time off 
work to attend.

To everyone's surprise, reality got in the way of conventional 
wisdom, and what legislators saw instead was a surge of grass-roots 
support for ending our failed 80-year experiment with prohibition.

Of the 58 people who testified, only 19 spoke against S.241 - and 
nearly half of those actually spoke in favor of legalization. These 
speakers called for legalization, but were upset that the bill does 
not allow people to grow cannabis plants in their gardens, and did 
not provide sufficient opportunity for small-scale farmers to 
participate in the new cannabis economy. Setting these important 
details aside, fully three-quarters of the testimony was strongly in 
favor of reform.

Impressively, this public show of force came despite TV news cameras 
taking away the safety net of anonymity, and despite a large 
uniformed police presence, acting to reinforce the stigma already 
felt by cannabis users, and thereby chilling free expression. Yet 
speaker after speaker bravely stood up for sensible reform.

In the past six months, we have spoken with hundreds of Vermonters up 
and down the state who've told us that while they support 
legalization, they are afraid to call their legislators, or even talk 
with their neighbors about legalization. We've heard hundreds of 
stories about fear of personal, political or professional retribution 
for speaking up for something that is against the law.

Take, for example, the high school teacher from Lamoille County, who 
told us that he doesn't want to jeopardize his job. Or the nurse in 
the Mad River Valley who is afraid of what her boss will think. The 
social worker in Orange County who thinks legalization is "a no 
brainer", but fears that saying so in public would be the end of his 
career. The municipal employee in Caledonia County who doesn't want 
to ruffle the town manager's feathers. The co-owner of a construction 
firm, who doesn't use marijuana herself, but is afraid of what 
potential clients would think if she publicly supported legalization. 
The mother in Orleans County, who prefers to take a puff of marijuana 
after her kids are in bed, instead of the couple of beers her husband 
enjoys, but is afraid DCF will come for a visit if anyone found out. 
The police officer from Addison County, who's afraid to speak out 
because his department chief is one of the loudest voices against legalization.

Legislators must take heed of the impressive grass-roots turnout at 
the public hearing, and consider that this came despite the very real 
and substantial barriers to speaking openly about an activity that 
remains against the law. And just like 75 percent of the speakers at 
this hearing, a resounding 68 percent of Vermonters ages 18 to 45 
support legalization.

Vermonters are making their voices heard loud and clear: now is the 
time to legalize and regulate cannabis for adult use. The House 
should address the flaws of S.241 by allowing personal cultivation of 
2 plants per household, by expanding access to affordable cultivation 
licenses for small farmers, and by immediately eliminating all civil 
and criminal penalties for possession of up to 4 ounces of cannabis 
in one's home and up to 1 ounce on one's person. And then the House 
should pass this bill, and put an end to our sad and misguided 
history of prohibition.

Dave Silberman, attorney, Middlebury

Ben Brown, founder of NewGrassRoots, Pittsford
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