Vermont leaders say touring through Colorado's medical and recreational marijuana landscape this week gave them a lot to think about.
~
Nine people from Vermont, including Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan and representatives from both sides of the legalization debate, met with Colorado regulators, marijuana businesses and nonprofit organizations during the busy three-day trip.
 
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Darrow said he knew little about marijuana policy before boarding the plane to Colorado.
 
"I went out there thinking this was a pretty simple proposition, a binary question — yes or no, legalization?" Darrow recalled.
 
But the group encountered a slew of issues associated with the rising marijuana industry: For example, taxed and regulated legal sales are still more expensive than black market marijuana or medical marijuana, Darrow said.
 
A report by the Rand Corporation earlier this year also pointed out that Vermont could choose from any number of regulatory systems for the drug — not necessarily a for-profit retail market like Colorado. And some questions, such as the effect of marijuana on impaired driving rates, lack conclusive data.
 
Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use by referendum; Vermont would do so through the Legislature, allowing more time for policymaking.
 
"Given how complex it is, I did get the impression that it's nothing you want to rush into," Darrow said.
 
David Mickenberg, a lobbyist with the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said he was struck by the "normality" of legal marijuana.
 
"Denver is still Denver," Mickenberg said. "People seem to be going on with their lives. It didn't feel to me omnipresent."
 
Mary Alice McKenzie, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, has been a vocal critic of marijuana legalization. McKenzie is particularly concerned with the health and safety of young Vermonters.
 
She noticed the difficulty of marijuana industry marketing in Colorado, and compared it to "Big Tobacco."
 
"They are clear that they are not targeting youth," McKenzie said, "but they are marketing to a youthful market, and that's a really hard line."
 
The group scheduled back-to-back meetings throughout the trip.
 
"I would highly encourage any policymaker in Vermont considering this, no matter what side they're on, to try to get to Colorado," McKenzie said. "Try to do what we did, because it was such an incredible learning experience."
 
The group plans to produce a report for Vermont lawmakers that summarizes the information gleaned from Colorado.
 
April Burbank ~ Burlington Free Press ~ February 15, 2015
 
~

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