The story on pot; to legalize or not
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 22:09
Legalizing marijuana may still be up for debate, but come Election Day, Burlington voters will have the chance to tell lawmakers how the Queen City really feels about the illegal drug.
With an 11-3 vote, the city council approved a non-binding question on the November ballot that will allow citizens of Burlington to vote for or against the legalization of cannabis and hemp products.
The official ballot question, denied two years ago with a 6-6 vote, states, “Shall the people of Burlington support the legalization, regulation and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”
The people of Burlington will be given the chance to respond Nov. 6.
If passed, supporters say the measure would be a way for city residents to send a message to Vermont legislators that they disapprove of the state’s current rules regarding illegal cannabis and hemp products.
Max Tracy, a city councilor for Ward 2, introduced the ballot, along with Ed Adrian, from Ward 1, and Norm Blais, Ward 6, after a February 2012 Public Policy poll reflected strong support across the state for decriminalization, according to VTDigger.org.
“Rather than wait until it’s really picked up a lot of feed nationally, I’d rather see Burlington lead the way on this issue,” Tracy said.
Many Burlington residents do not know that marijuana is not even decriminalized, the step usually taken before legalization, Tracy said. Decriminalization removes the penalties for possession while legalization removes the penalties for possession, production and distribution.
“[People] come to Vermont and our reputation doesn’t really keep up with reality,” Tracy said. “People think of Vermont as this really liberal place with a lot of pot smokers, and, with the consequences they think ‘Oh, the laws are super liberal,’ but they’re really not, so we’re hopefully using this opportunity to get it there.”
According to a study by Jon Gettman, a former head of the National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the arrest rate for illegal marijuana use rose four percent between 2003 and 2007 across the state, VTDigger.com stated.
First time violators are eligible for a sentence deferral, but getting caught a second time could result in a two-year jail sentence and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
During the public forum before the councilors’ discussion and vote, many Burlington citizens expressed their opinion on the referendum, with some in agreement with Tracy.
Albert Petrarca, founder of a group supporting the referendum called BTV Green, said that he thinks citizens should have the right to vote on the legalization question as a democratic principle.
“This is a pro-cannabis, pro-hemp town,” Petrarca said. “And I think that’s probably one of the reasons why some people will choose not to vote tonight … they know what the outcome is going to be and they’re going to find various reasons as to why it shouldn’t be on the ballot and why people shouldn’t have a democratic right to vote on it.”
Vermont gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton said she felt like the support of legalization would be a progressive step for Burlington’s economic and health policies.
“Industrial hemp has the capacity to help us rebuild our manufacturing base here in Vermont — we can replace all our plastics with industrial hemp products,” Peyton said.
“People can get cured of cancers with high THC marijuana — that turns me on,” she said. “It turns me on that [people] can get cured of melanomas, and that they can get cured of diabetes, and of Rheumatoid arthritis and we could get rid of our problems of poverty in the state.”
Councilor Bram Kranichfeld of Ward 2 said that marijuana legalization could help alleviate a legal system that tends to be cluttered with marijuana violations.
“In my experience as a criminal prosecutor who has prosecuted many people for marijuana, I think there is no question that we need to rethink our policy on marijuana as a community, as a city, as a state and as a country,” Kranichfeld said.
“Voting for this resolution is really voting for democracy, to put the question to the voters in Burlington,” he said.
Other councilors did not agree. The three councilors that voted against the referendum were David Hartnett of Ward 4, and Vincent Dober Sr. and Paul Decelles, both of Ward 7.
All three spoke about the negative effects younger children could experience being exposed to a legalized marijuana industry.