MONTPELIER – The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin is gearing up for a task assigned to it by the Legislature: studying the fiscal and other impacts if the state were to legalize marijuana.
Shumlin agrees with lawmakers “it’s timely to do a study,” said Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, whose agency is to report its findings to lawmakers by Jan. 15.
“We’re not going to prejudge what our position would be at the end of it,” he said.
An amendment to a bill removing the cap on the number of patients who can get medical marijuana in Vermont called for a study of “possible taxing systems” for marijuana, any savings or costs connected with taxing and regulating the drug, and the experiences of other states that have legalized, which as of now are Colorado and Washington.
Less than a week after lawmakers adjourned, Spaulding said the administration hasn’t determined how to carry out the task.
“I know that we’re going to take it seriously and we’ll probably do a pretty thorough study,” he said.
Shumlin has said repeatedly he wants to watch what happens in Colorado and Washington before deciding whether legalization is a good idea for Vermont. Spaulding cautioned that January, when his agency’s report is due, may be too soon to give a definitive answer.
Advocates on both sides of the issue are already offering suggestions for what Vermont ought to consider.
Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, said one issue in Colorado “that perhaps wasn’t foreseen was how edibles and infused products would be regulated.”
Edibles have come under close scrutiny in Colorado after a Wyoming college student visiting Denver ate more of a pot-laced cookie than recommended and jumped to his death from a hotel balcony. Last month, a man fatally shot his wife after eating pot-infused candy.
Those two deaths since marijuana became legal in January are far fewer than the 161 drunken driving deaths reported for Colorado in 2011 by the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The MADD statistics didn’t include suicides or homicides tied to alcohol.
Kevin Sabet, executive director of the anti-pot group Project SAM — for Smart Approaches to Marijuana — said states eyeing potential marijuana tax revenues should consider that the social costs of alcohol, ranging from lost workplace productivity to traffic accidents, usually outstrip revenues from taxing the beverages by 10 to one.
“For the state to think they’re actually going to gain money when all is said and done I think is a very difficult proposition to make,” Sabet said.
Rep. Kristina Michelsen, D-Hardwick, a legalization supporter who is leaving the Vermont House after one term, said she hoped that any legalization scheme in Vermont will allow not just for a commercial industry, but for people to be able to grow their own at home.
Sabet said just allowing homegrown might be preferable to full commercial legalization, which he said “invites profit-seeking companies with very little regard for public health.”
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