Vermont Gubernatorial Candidate Backs Pot Decriminalization
Peter Shumlin, a Windham County state senator fighting his way through a five-part primary, said he is throwing his support behind the burgeoning decriminalization movement, reports Peter Hirschfeld of the Vermont Press Bureau.
“Here’s the difference between Pete Shumlin and other candidates,” Shumlin said this week. “I think the public is turned off by politicians who don’t stand for what they believe. Vermonters won’t always agree with me, but they know I’ll fight for what I believe in.”
“We need to have an honest conversation with Vermonters about changing laws that are diverting resources and attention from real problems, and filling our prisons up with folks that shouldn’t be there,” said Shumlin, who is Vermont State Senate President Pro Tempore.
“I believe it is a mistake to be sending young people on second, third, fourth offenses to prison on marijuana-related charges,” said Shumlin, who has previously sponsored a decrim bill. “That’s where we could make a difference.”
Attempts at marijuana law reform aren’t new in the Statehouse at Montpelier; decriminalization bills have been introduced many times. But the fiscal toll on the criminal justice system of prosecuting marijuana users is strengthening the effort more than ever before.
“Spending eight year sin the Legislature and seeing how many nonviolent offenders we’re putting in prison at $52,000 per year was one thing that really got to me,” said Darryl Pillsbury, a former four-term Independent legislator from Brattleboro who now serves as town selectman.
“We’re trying to build a groundswell here so we have enough people that can support legislators in Montpelier that are willing to do this,” Pillsbury said. “If we can get the numbers, we can go somewhere with this.”
Gubernatorial candidate Shumlin said fiscal pragmatism is also behind his support for decrim.
“Vermont’s second-fastest area of budget growth is prisons,” Shumlin said.
Low-level possession charges rarely result in jail time, according to Shumlin, but marijuana-related penalties can be much more severe for people who are already on probation.
“Small marijuana offenses, when you’re already on probation, can send you to prison,” Shumlin said. “That doesn’t seem to me to be the best use of scarce taxpayer dollars.”
In 2008, the Vermont Senate approved legislation that would have eliminated criminal penalties for people caught with up to an ounce of cannabis. The bill never made it through the House, however.
A decrim bill introduced in the last session of the Legislature never got out of committee.
According to Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand, marijuana decriminalization would be a positive step.
“I am convinced that a regulated model would actually reduce use rates, dramatically reduce if not completely eliminate law enforcement involvement as it relates to marijuana, and would help take the profit motive out of the illegal sale and distribution, which is spawning extraordinary violence through the sale of a substance that in and of itself doesn’t induce violence,” Sand said.
“The question then is what are the incremental steps needed to get there?” Sand said. “And decriminalization, I think, is a reasonable incremental step.”
Sand said he believes the majority of voters already support decriminalization.
“I have said for years, and I believe it even more strongly now, that voters are ahead of politicians on this issue,” Sand said.
About the author: Steve Elliott is editor of Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media’s site covering cannabis news, views, rumor and humor.