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Shumlin Administration Launches Pot Legalization Study

Ted S. Warren
Marijuana plants grow at Sea Green Farms, a recreational pot grower in Seattle, in June. The state of Vermont has hired a national consultant to conduct a study of marijuana legalization in the state.

The Shumlin Administration is taking a serious look at the possibility of legalizing marijuana in Vermont. And to look at the pros and cons, the administration has reached an agreement with the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit international research organization, to conduct a thorough investigation of the issue for lawmakers to consider next winter.  

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says a comprehensive study is needed because he expects that lawmakers will want to debate this issue during the 2015 session.

The study requirement was included in legislation that passed this year that expanded the capacity of the state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries.

The state will contribute $20,000 for the study and the rest of the cost will be paid for by a private foundation.

"We are going to really try to put together a really high quality report that addresses all of the issues that are related to the legalization of marijuana use." - Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding

The goal is to have a detailed analysis of the issues surrounding legalizing marijuana in Vermont.

“In conjunction with the team from Rand, and our internal system we’re going to really try to put together a really high quality report,” said Spaulding. “That addresses all of the issues that are related to the legalization of marijuana use.”  

Spaulding says the Rand Corporation is a perfect partner for the state on this project.

“I think that by having an organization with a reputation as solid as Rand conduct this research analysis... will  allow the Legislature to have a real conversation based on objective information and facts on what is a pretty significant policy decision,” said Spaulding.

The study will look at a number of critical issues.

“They will be doing everything from estimating what the usage would be in Vermont, what the effects on public health would be if you were to go down this road,” said Spaulding. “(And) what’s the right way to do the taxation, how do you deal with the black market, what happens on the highways, There are a myriad number of issues.”

Spaulding says administration officials will also look at the experience of the two states that have legalized marijuana: Colorado and Washington.

“Plus we have people in state, our commissioners of liquor control for example have their counterparts are involved in Colorado and Washington,” said Spaulding. “The commissioner of public safety here in Vermont has counterparts in those states and has some experience with the medical marijuana dispensaries right now.”

Spaulding says Gov. Peter Shumlin has not taken a position on the legalization of marijuana in Vermont and he expects the report will play a major role in the governor’s final decision.

Lawmakers are expected to get the report in January.

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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