Shumlin and Sand on Marijuana Decriminalization

Yesterday the Vermont Legislature agreed on final language, passing a bill that will decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts.

We should note – as reminded this morning by the Department of Public Safety’s Senior Policy and Legal Advisor Bobby Sand – that the bill has NOT yet been signed into law so right now the laws of the State of Vermont remain the same.

However, Governor Peter Shumlin did indicate his support of the bill yesterday with this statement:

“I applaud the Legislature’s action to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Vermonters support sensible drug policies. This legislation allows our courts and law enforcement to focus their limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive opiates such as heroin and prescription drugs that are tearing apart families and communities.”

Since Woodstock’s Sand is our former Windsor County Prosecutor who has, over the years, been vocal about the need for decriminalizing marijuana (see excerpt from 2005 Rotary Speech below), we asked him a few questions about this “decrim” news:

Q. How will marijuana decrim bill – when signed into law – work vis a vis federal law?

A. “Marijuana will still remain illegal under federal law. In theory, the state could issue a civil ticket and the feds could pursue a case criminally but the feds rarely take an interest in mere possession cases”

Q. We know when you were with Windsor Cty you more or less campaigned for non-criminal penalities. Is the law, as passed by legislature, what you had in mind?

“I long advocated for a bill of this nature as a reasonable, incremental change in policy.”

Q. Will your office be dealing with pot diversion with regard to driving impairment? (Sand is heading up a new State office developing diversion and alternative sentencing programs for some drunken driving offenses)

A. “Impaired driving of any kind will be addressed by the study committee created by H200, the decrim bill.”

Here is an excerpt from Sand’s speech to Windsor County Rotary in 2005 in which he addresses the topics of alcohol abuse and marijuana:

* Illegal drugs are the most commonly abused substance in the criminal justice system.
While it is undeniable that Vermont has a serious problem with illegal drugs, unquestionably the substance of greatest abuse is alcohol. Perhaps greater than 70 percent of the offenders who come to the District Court in White River Junction have an alcohol dependency.

As the Department of Corrections struggles with prison crowding and scarce resources, it is vital that alcohol-abuse programs be expanded and made available early rather than waiting until offenders commit more serious crimes. On a broader level, a sea change is needed in our culture’s tolerance for alcohol abuse. Examining the prevalence of alcohol advertising at sporting events and the ready availability of alcohol at gas stations might be a good place to start.

* The war on marijuana is winnable and worth fighting.

Marijuana is not good for people. Lungs were not meant to hold smoke. Marijuana affects judgment, memory and is psychologically, if not physiologically, addictive. But marijuana is different in kind and degree from any other Schedule 1 drug — those drugs deemed by the federal government to be dangerous and lacking in medicinal value.

The reality is that marijuana is not a criminal justice menace. Police do not respond to pot-induced domestic assaults — alcohol-induced, yes, but not marijuana.

Instead of the vast resources devoted to the eradication of this prevalent weed, we ought to reallocate time and effort to the eradication of physical and sexual abuse of children (a war truly worth fighting), and adopt a public health approach to the problem of marijuana use and abuse. We currently take a public health approach to tobacco use by minors. Its addictive and carcinogenic qualities present far greater dangers than does the use of marijuana.”

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