PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 14
ADAP’s Opiate Summit
The Vermont Department of Health, in collaboration with the University of Vermont, hosted a major summit in Montpelier on Monday, April 4: Community Solutions to the Opiate Issues Facing Vermonters. There was standing room only and featured representatives from law enforcement, treatment, recovery, policy and government. It was a wonderful, informative event. Of note were two presentations by the medical community sharing their perspectives as community providers. Dr. Harry Chen, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, shared his vision for a community response to the opiate crisis. Dr. Stephen Leffler, the Chief Medical Officer of the UVM Medical Center, gave a remarkable presentation on new approaches the UVM Medical Center has taken to opiate prescriptions and pain relief.
VAMHAR President Peter Espenshade was invited to testify last week in front of the House General and Military Committee on S.252, a bill that would dramatically extend the Lottery Commission’s power to expand its video gambling machines statewide. The bill would allow the immediate expansion of the lottery’s existing video gambling machines from the more than twenty bars where they have been piloted to any interested bars and other sites all over the state. “This potentially represents a huge change in public policy,” Espenshade said. He also commented on where these products can be placed, which include every thing from taverns to town clerk’s offices. He stated that the current video gambling pilot sites are largely in low-income neighborhoods and that the proposed expansion would only exacerbate the predatory nature of video gambling. This may result in a potentially dangerous expansion of gambling in Vermont and a major shift in public policy. The committee has not yet taken action. More to follow.
Explore: Bill S.252
This week much of our news is about the ongoing debate concerning recreational marijuana legalization, both here and elsewhere. The conversation is diverse and widespread. If you’ve been watching WCAX or WPTZ much, you have probably seen the ads from the Coalition To Regulate Marijuana urging support for legalization. Viewers are encouraged to contact their legislators and lobby for S.241. The cons are also urging contact with legislators, but not on the air as far as we know.
Explore: Bill S.241
Rutland Herald: Ads Advocate Marijuana Legalization
Marijuana Legislative Tangle
Speaking of legislators, the landscape of the marijuana legalization process took a dramatic turn during the past week. Always in jeopardy in the House, Senate bill S.241 was first considered by the House Judiciary Committee. They eviscerated the bill. The Senate framework for recreational use of marijuana was removed in its entirety. Various plans were floated. One was an expansion of decriminalization, including a reduced civil penalty for the possession of two cannabis plants. It also provided $350,000 for a youth oriented prevention program, and set limits on the amount of marijuana in the system while driving. It also established a new lower blood alcohol level for driving under the influence when combined with the presence of marijuana in the system. Much of this ended up further changed in committee. Legalization remained out of the picture.
The final Judiciary version was more limited, and even that left committee with only a slim margin. It passed by one vote. That slim majority supported a draft that did expand funding for anti-drug marketing, upped law enforcement funding with more drugged driving resources, and barred potentially dangerous methods of concentrating components of cannabis. The Judiciary Committee bill also retained the drop in the legal limit of blood alcohol from 0.08 to 0.05 for those also impaired by marijuana. Other things that survived included the enhancement of education and prevention programs for young people and spending more than $650,000 on a new forensic laboratory for the Department of Public Safety. It also raised the threshold between a misdemeanor and a felony for sale of marijuana from half an ounce to an ounce.
Legalization advocates were not happy, feeling that the Judiciary draft was a massive step backward from the Senate position, while opponents felt that the committee had left the door open to legalization in the future – perhaps the near future. The race for Governor will have a dramatic impact on this question. The Judiciary version of the marijuana bill may face tough sledding in House Appropriations and Ways and Means, where its expenditures will come under close scrutiny. If it gets that far, then the House/Senate conference committee – designed to resolve the issues between the two versions of the bill – may fail to get its work done before the end of the session. Governor Shumlin is undeterred and is committed to the Senate version of the bill. He maintains that a bill with substantial changes to current law will still pass. More to follow.
Burlington Free Press: Vermont Pot Legalization Sees a Slowdown
States Weigh Marijuana
Connecticut and Maine are both considering marijuana legalization, arguing for being the first in New England to take the proponents’ position. The debate is ongoing in Connecticut with the yeas and nays divided along similar lines as Vermont. The pro arguments are based on revenue. The suggestions for spending the cash range from fighting opioid abuse to reducing the state’s substantial deficit. Unlike in Vermont, Governor Malloy of Connecticut – who supported medical use and decriminalization – opposes the legalization on the basis that it encourages marijuana use. The situation in Maine is different. After a bit of a legal tangle over valid petitions, a judge has ruled in favor of the petitioners. The issue of legalization will be on Maine’s ballot in November. The question of recreational marijuana is also under consideration in Rhode Island.