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 Politics: Governorís race update: Democratic candidates debate marijuana penalties

VermontFrom: Marijuana Policy Project www.mpp.org

For years those of us advocating for reform of our nationís marijuana laws have said repeatedly that we need to have a frank, open, and honest discussion about the consequences of our bitter war to maintain marijuana prohibition. Last weekís debate among Vermontís Democratic candidates for governor was a great example of just that. When asked about ways to begin work on closing Vermontís gaping budget shortfall, Senate President Pro Tempore Pete Shumlin had this to say: "I believe it's a mistake to be sending young people on second, third, fourth offenses to prison on marijuana-related charges. That's where we could make a difference."

Heís right, by the way. Our analysis shows that there were 788 individuals arrested in Vermont in 2008 on stand-alone, single counts of misdemeanor marijuana possession. Taking into account the cost of arresting, booking, processing, prosecuting, and in many cases defending them, together with post-conviction monitoring, the conservative estimate of the cost of Vermontís harsh marijuana penalties is $2-3 million dollars per year. ...

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Unfortunately, none of the other four candidates in attendance were willing to take such an explicitly pro-decriminalization position, instead opting for middle-ground, non-committal statements. Still, itís encouraging that none were willing to take an explicitly anti-decriminalization position either. Two candidates, Sen. Matt Dunne and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, made comments somewhat critical of Vermontís current penalties. A border control checkpoint on Interstate 91 has been burdening courts by "going after individuals who have small amounts of marijuana ... itís crazy," said Dunne. Markowitz, to her credit, said elected officials "need to think differently about how we are dealing with crimes related to a drug habit."

As this discussion shows, these are encouraging times. Even national politicians from Barack Obama to Sarah Palin have said decriminalization is an option that should be getting more attention. Still, starting the debate is only half the battle Ė now we have to win it. If you have a chance to attend debates or candidate forums in Vermont, please do, and ask the candidates for their position on decriminalizing marijuana possession. If we can get every candidate to state their position clearly, then voters in Vermont who support an end to arresting, and in many cases jailing, marijuana users can make an informed decision at the polls later this year.

As the race continues, please consider supporting candidates who take sensible positions. If you canít afford a donation, volunteering a few hours of your time could make a big difference. Even a thankful, encouraging e-mail sends a message to candidates that itís safe to support marijuana policy reform. And of course stay tuned to our e-mail alerts for the latest on Vermontís gubernatorial candidates and their positions on marijuana policies.

Thank You,

Dan Riffle
Legislative Analyst
Marijuana Policy Project


Help fund MPP's projects
Please click here to donate now.


[15 June 2010]

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