by WYNT Staff
News Channel 13 - Albany, NY
BENNINGTON - An estimated 80,000 Vermonters do it illegally every year. On Monday, lawmakers took an important step forward that could pave the way for the legalization of recreational marijuana, by holding a series of public hearings to collect input and opinions.
Voters in four states, along with the District of Columbia, have already legalized recreational marijuana through a referendum, Vermont might be on the verge of becoming the first state in the nation to legalize it through legislation.
Polls indicate that about 57% of state residents favor the legalization of recreational marijuana. Retired high school football coach Arthur Peterson, however, sees it as a losing game plan.
"I know there are kids who dropped out of our program, who were gung ho, and got involved with drugs and dropped out," Peterson says, "It's a terrible thing to see."
Criminal defense attorney Brad Myerson says he doesn't see any major concerns on the horizon.
"We will not have future problems with drugged drivers if marijuana is legal because enough people smoke it today whether it's legal or not," Myerson opines. "It's not going to change the driving habits."
Vermont's Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday at three venues, including a packed house at the Bennington Fire Station, where Curt White, president of the Vermont Association of Addiction and Treatment Providers shared several concerns.
"It might make things worse for some of the people I work with every day," White says, "I'm also concerned about it might make my job harder in terms of trying to help them."
Senator Jeanette White (D - Windham), who is sponsoring a marijuana legalization bill, acknowledges pot does have a negative brain impact on young people.
"I personally believe it'll be easier to keep it out of the hands of kids if it's regulated," White says.
Keeping it out of the hands of kids is just one of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin's criteria. He also wants nothing edible, and DUI laws strengthened.
"The more and more research we've had on brain development and the impact of pot and other substances on young brains particularly and the negative effects does give us pause as we look at this issue," says Senator Dick Sears (D - Chairman of the Judiciary Committee).
The Judiciary Committee will continue collecting testimony throughout the week, with a committee vote expected on January 29th.
The Finance Committee is also looking at the issue.