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Vt. Health Commissioner "Open" To Legalizing Marijuana

It’s been quite a week for efforts to legalize marijuana in Vermont. First, a national organization, the Marijuana Policy Project, included Vermont as one of ten states where the group will actively campaign to legalize marijuana by 2017.  Two states have voted to legalize marijuana, Colorado and Washington.

we want to see what happens in these states when you start to regulate it - Health Commissioner Harry Chen

Then on Wednesday, Governor Peter Shumlin said he favors the legalization of marijuana, but not right away.  Shumlin said he was thrilled that Colorado and Washington will lead the way on the issue and the Governor says other states, including Vermont, will be able to learn from the experience of these two states.

And now at the end of the week, Health Commissioner Harry Chen says he’s open to legalizing marijuana in Vermont.

“Let’s see what happens in other states. We have a grand experiment going on in Washington state and Colorado,” said Chen. “Certainly in my discussions with officials around the country we want to see what happens in these states when you start to regulate it.”

And if marijuana is regulated and taxed the way that alcohol is, Chen says there could be additional resources available to help deal with some of negative health effects of marijuana use.

“We want to ensure there’s appropriate funding for any dealing with the health effects just like we theoretically have liquor taxes and we do devote some of that money to dealing with the health effects of alcohol,” said Chen. “But let’s go into it, if we do go into it, with eyes wide open acknowledging that there are health effects that we’re going to have to deal with.”

Chen acknowledges that the legalization of marijuana could send a mixed message to young people.

“I clearly think that it’s a challenging message that we have to kind of weave through which is that like alcohol like tobacco, these are drugs that have harmful effects. So I think it’s important that that message gets out I think right now the message that from my perspective is important is we did not legalize it, it is not legal and that there are health effects related to it.”

Legislation legalizing marijuana was introduced at the Statehouse last winter but the bill faces an uncertain future because Governor Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith both say the issue is not a priority for the 2014 session.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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