Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to Governor Phil Scott from Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont, including Vermont physicians Dr. David Rettew, Dr. John Hughes, and Dr. David Charnock, all members of the PFFBVT Advisory Board.
Dear Governor Scott:
In the first week of 2018, the Vermont Legislature approved H.511, a bill you did not seek. Faced with the choice to sign or veto, you said you would sign based on your libertarian bent for personal freedom as long as another is not harmed. At the same time you expressed concern that society must take steps to protect the impact of legalization on mental health, children, and highway safety.
Since then, however, important new information has been presented to you. The January 16 report by your Marijuana Advisory Commission concedes that although consumption is widespread under the current decriminalized system, “common sense and logic dictate there will be an increase in availability and consequently an increase in use” if two plants are legal in every home, along with unlimited storage of marijuana and no interdiction prohibiting home-created concentrates as high as 100% THC. And your Commission clearly states that increased consumption will lead to more mental illness, more death on our highways, more child exposure and more state spending to address these and other problems.
Governor Scott, your Commission wisely sets a standard for legalization: “even accepting as a given existing, illegal recreational use of cannabis as an individual choice, legalizing this choice — and placing the state’s approval on it — cannot be permitted to adversely impact public health or safety, especially roadway safety and children’s health.”
The Commission report, prepared by experts in law enforcement, medical and social services, says there will indeed be adverse impacts: “local and state police, schools and social services can all expect increased burdens directly related to any increase of use flowing from the increased availability of cannabis.” The state’s picked experts have described how Vermonters under legalization even of two plants will suffer and our already burdened taxpayers will be required to pay for more drug treatment, more mental health treatment, more child social services and more highway safety – at a level that would be unnecessary if legalization had not led to increased consumption.
Governor Scott, you did not ask for this bill — but you can veto it and set a path for a safer Vermont in the event of further decriminalization during a future biennium. In your written veto explanation to the Legislature, please ask our lawmakers to take the steps deemed necessary by the Commission to reduce the human suffering and impacts of further decriminalization, should it occur. The Commission states:
EDUCATION AND PREVENTION — Current programs do not target cannabis specifically and the Vermont Department of Health estimates it would take the VT Dept. of Health 12-18 months to develop the necessary programs and materials to implement an effective education and prevention program.
Governor Scott, based on this expert advice published on January 16, please veto H.511, ask the Legislature to fully fund and implement the 12-18 month education and prevention program, prior to delivering any new further decriminalization of home grown plants bill for your signature.
The Commission advises funding sources such as federal highway safety grants, and taxes, fees and other financial support possibly from a system of state sold decriminalized cannabis licenses and/or permits or from a further decriminalized system. In your veto statement, require the cannabis decriminalized system to invest up front in paying for the cost of educating our young and treating the victims of mental illness, addiction, and highway accidents and deaths. If this system places profits over the lives and wellbeing of Vermonters, then no Vermont Legislature sworn to uphold Article 7 of the Vermont Constitution — “government …..for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people” — should want them here, anyway. These financial investments must not be token offerings. They must pay, as much as money can pay, the full burden of prevention and treatment of any increased human suffering resulting, as determined on an actuarial basis.
Governor Scott, please trust what your inner voice tells you is best for Vermont. Your fellow Vermonters know you as a person of common sense who can be trusted to do what is right for them and for their children. As measured in lives saved or lost, this may be the most important decision of your career — indeed, of your entire life. May wisdom guide you.