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McQuiston: Pot Politics

Many years ago I worked with someone who went to Attica - yes, that Attica - for possessing a small amount of pot, and it probably didn’t help that he was also Native American. The prison experience nearly wrecked him as a human being.

Nowadays you don’t get sent to Attica for selling marijuana. In fact, pot is relatively low risk for drug dealers. And while they might rather push big-ticket items like heroin or cocaine, marijuana has long provided a nice cash flow to support everything else they do - so one big reason to legalize marijuana is that it will undermine the criminal drug industry
The same argument is used to promote the legal commercialization of marijuana, but the bill just passed by the Legislature doesn’t address that.

The new law applies mainly to individuals who are recreational pot users and who maybe have grown a contraband plant or two. Now they can openly grow it on their back porch if they wish, as long as they don’t grow too much or sell any of it.
Those opposed to this legislation still insist there are safety concerns regarding DUI and concerns regarding children; and they wonder, as I do, if we really need another thing to worry about.

But advocates of marijuana commercialization - including Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, who made it a focus of his campaign - point out that pot isn’t as harmful as a lot of other things that are legal in our society, namely alcohol and cigarettes.

And they suggest that legal pot production could be a windfall industry for Vermont, similar to same-sex marriage and captive insurance.

Vermont’s near-monopoly on companies that self-insure isn’t a huge money maker, but it generates steady income with some growth; it’s clean and it pays well. And when Vermont first instituted civil unions and then gay marriage, the hospitality industry benefited greatly.

That windfall has quieted somewhat as other states, inspired by humanity and the opportunity to increase rooms and meals taxes, have instituted their own marriage equality laws. But because Vermont was first, it still does well with this demographic and virtually owns the brand.

After an initial boom that would level out as other Eastern states follow suite, similar benefits would likely accrue from a commercial marijuana industry.

But there’s still a long way to go politically and socially to get to that point.

Tim McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.
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