Written by Todd Wellington. Published in The Caledonian-Record
The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative (VTCC) rolled into St. Johnsbury last night bringing with it word of a future Vermont with fields filled with golden bud.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunity,” said VTCC member Will Raap of Chittenden County who predicted Vermont would lead the nation with high quality green mountain dope like it does with maple syrup, craft beer and cheese.
There was talk by “Jogbra” co-inventor and former Vermont state Senator Hinda Miller of Chittenden County of plugging Vermont’s brain-drain with waves of new jobs needed to support a new legalized marijuana industry.
“We’re going to be doing it ‘The Vermont Way,’” said Miller, who boasted of “a certain love of job creation” at the meeting.
“The triple bottom line – social, economic and environmental,” said Miller.
The VTCC public forum was held at Catamount Arts and was well attended with a room full of residents from across the state, local legislators such as Reps. Marty Feltus of Lyndon and Chip Troinao of Stannard and other public officials such as Caledonia County State’s Attorney Lisa Warren who said she was there to observe.
There were also several members of the media and a host of legalization advocates -from Matt Simon – New England Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Manchester, N.H. – to a man with two cameras who said he was from the “vermontarijuana” web site.
There was also a guy seated in the back of the room who loudly objected to what he believed were anti-pot statements.
“Stop all the reefer-madness nonsense!” he demanded at one point.
Also in the crowd were uniformed St. Johnsbury Police Offiers Capt. Jason Gray and Ofc. Kevin Barone who resisted all efforts by the pot-proponents to get them to comment on the legalization issue other than to say they were just there to observe.
Then there was Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia-Orange who is not a member of the VTCC but did more than observe.
“I do not smoke marijuana and I do not want to,” said Benning, Senate minority leader and a member of the Government Operations Committee. Benning said his interest was in finding the best way to implement pot legalization when it arrives.
“Marijuana is not coming to Vermont, it’s been here,” said Benning of the state’s $200 million dollar underground pot economy. “Alcohol is harder to obtain by our youth today than marijuana.”
Benning said he wasn’t there to debate marijuana legalization – which he believes is highly likely given the political mood in Vermont – but doesn’t want the state to rush into legalization without putting some thought into how it would all work.
“Nobody is planning to have a light just switch on with legalization,” said Benning. “How would it work?”
Some of the more lengthy discussions involved the impact legalization would have on those already taking advantage of the existing state medical marijuana law.
“The hope is that it will not affect them,” said Benning. “That it would not affect them in a negative way.”
Benning said there might be an initial infusion of cash into the state through taxes if pot is legalized but he felt that might be just a temporary benefit for a few years until other New England states follow suit.
“Maine, New Hampshire and New York are going to have their conversations too,” said Benning.
There was also discussion on the issue of how much freedom regular Vermonters would have to grow their own marijuana.
Benning said the discussion in his committee right now was that residents would be free to grow a certain amount of pot for themselves and to give it to friends but the state might restrict sales from home-grown operations.
“That’s the general consensus right now,” said Benning.
Benning also said his committee was committed to keeping marijuana away from children, making sure they were educated about the risks of using marijuana and making sure pro-marijuana advertising would not reach them.
“We want to make sure the youth get a totally different message and I think we can do that,” said Benning.