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MARIJUANA MOMENT

Vermont should legalize marijuana sales, top health department official says

Cannabis plants grow at Grassroots Vermont, a medicinal cannabis production facility in Brandon, Vt.
Cannabis plants grow at Grassroots Vermont, a medicinal cannabis production facility in Brandon, Vt.Robert Layman

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

A top Vermont health official is endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.

During a radio interview Monday, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does.

Monday’s discussion on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show included the relationship between marijuana-related health consequences and the state’s failure to regulate cannabis after lawmakers there became the nation’s first to legalize marijuana by an act of legislators in January 2018. Governor Phil Scott signed the bill, which allows low-level possession and home cultivation but continues to prohibit sales, later that month.

“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makes sense for cannabis. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”

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“Even regulating how it’s tested,” she said, “should be done by an independent lab. Even the packaging. How do we regulate the packaging so that it isn’t desirable for children, to look like candy if it’s going to be edible? We at the Health Department support a regulated system.”

The Department of Health’s support — a first for the state agency — was welcomed by Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury.

“Vermonters of all political stripes are eager to enact a strong regulatory system that puts consumer safety at the forefront, and generates significant revenues for the Department’s broader addiction prevention and treatment efforts,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than burying their heads in the sand and wishing for a drug-free America, the Department seems to finally be taking a facts-based approach to cannabis, rooted in harm reduction instead of stigma. That is a very good thing.”

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Seivwright’s support also comes on the heels of renewed attention to the question of regulating marijuana commerce among Vermont legislators. In January, the state Senate approved a cannabis sales legalization bill. But as the legislative session came to a close in the spring, it became clear that the legislation would not reach the House floor for a vote despite having advanced at the committee level.

Although other Democratic leaders have insisted that a marijuana marketplace legalization bill will advance in 2020, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said there is no guarantee, VT Digger reports.

In particular, Johnson noted that if the bill is to see a floor consideration in the new year, it will need the 76 votes required for passage in the House — indicating that she doesn’t intend to put any muscle into rounding up the support needed to pass it. Concerns such as roadside safety, youth usage, and the marijuana production’s impact on the environment must also be addressed, she said.

The speaker’s stance is in contrast to the Vermont Democratic Party, which adopted support for a legal marijuana marketplace as part of its platform last year.

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And last year, when the legal marijuana marketplace bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote, Majority Leader Jill Krowinski reaffirmed her party’s commitment to the legislation’s eventual passage, promising that lawmakers would “finish it early” in 2020.

Over the weekend, Krowinski doubled down on her prediction that the House will vote on the legislation in the upcoming session.

“A version of that will get to the floor,” Krowinski said, according to VT Digger.

Read this story on Marijuana Moment.