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Vermont Delegation In Colorado On Marijuana Legalization Fact-Finding Trip

WAMC/Pat Bradley

A nine-member delegation that includes law enforcement officials, drug treatment experts, marijuana supporters and detractors left Vermont to travel to Colorado Sunday. They are gathering information on that state's experience with marijuana legalization.   They talked about their expectations just before they boarded their plane on Sunday.

Just over a year ago, Colorado legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by persons 21 or older for recreational use.
Vermont lawmakers are now assessing a proposal that would decriminalize pot.
Vermont Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn says Vermont lawmakers will have a number of points to consider and they need a firsthand understanding of what could happen if the drug is legalized.  “I’m looking forward to just talking to people on the street.  I want to find out how it’s affecting real Colorado people and what their thoughts are on it. I want to know what the financial impacts are.  I just want to get an understanding as to how it’s really working.”

Vermont’s delegation will meet with youth and drug treatment professionals, law enforcement officials, the Colorado governors’ staff and the U.S. Attorney in Denver. They will also tour a marijuana growing facility and visit a pot retail store.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan worked with Commissioner Flynn to choose the people who will bring back to the legislature information on Colorado’s experience with legalization.  Donovan wants to find out if the law is working in Colorado.  “There’s a lot of questions and I think the more you get into it, it’s a lot more complicated. What the impact on kids? What’s the impact on families? What’s the impact on traffic safety?  What’s the impact on neighboring states? All these issues have to be discussed if we’re going to have this debate in Vermont. And what better place to go out and gather these facts and learn a little bit than the place where it’s legal?”

The delegation is mixed between supporters and opponents of legalization.
Bennington Police Chief and Public Safety Director Paul Doucette represents the Vermont Chiefs of Police Association. While he is traveling to Colorado with an open mind, he notes the association is adamantly opposed to the legalization of marijuana.  “I want to be able to talk to people that this has affected.  It was just what, a week or so ago,  that the governor in Colorado came out and said it was a mistake. Why was this a mistake?  Substance abuse is a problem in this country and  Governor Shumlin has done a great job with his efforts to help curb some of the opiate issues.  But at the same time, in the same breath, we’re saying perhaps we may legalize marijuana. Which is a substance that in my 25 years of law enforcement we have been fighting. I think it’s important that we go out and we see exactly what their issues are. But myself along with the other chiefs in the association are adamantly opposed to this.”

Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard is concerned as Vermont considers decriminalization but is keeping an open mind as he looks at Colorado’s experience.  “One of the things I want to look at is the impact that legalization of marijuana has on kids.  I want to find out, if I can, what sociological changes have occurred since they’ve legalized marijuana. I want to find out about emergency room calls and things like that. What impact it’s having on Medicaid insurance and private insurance if any.  What are the hidden costs of this?  Everybody talks about the tax revenue it generates, but I think there’s some hidden costs to it too.”

The Maple Leaf Farm Treatment Center in Underhill is a 41-bed residential substance abuse treatment program. Executive Director Bill Young says the state’s deliberations regarding potential decriminalization of pot are deadly serious and information for its decision is crucial.  “I’m not on one side of the debate or the other. I’m on the side that says we need a lot more information. If I did vote I wouldn’t be ready to yet. And I think a lot of people aren’t.  They’re recognizing that the state really needs to be very, very deliberate about this.”

Asset forfeiture funds are being used to pay travel expenses for law enforcement officials.
Other members of the delegation are paying their own way. No taxpayer dollars are being used. The group returns to Vermont Wednesday night.

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