By Guy Page
If the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee approves S.54, creating a retail market for marijuana, Chair Dick Sears and his committee can’t say they weren’t warned about its deadly threat to Vermonters.
Wednesday Jan. 30, the two state of Vermont officials most responsible for Vermont’s health and public safety warned them against increasing youth and automobile operator access to marijuana.
Vermont Health Department Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told the Judiciary Committee:
Youth in ‘legal’ Vermont now consume more marijuana, but still don’t realize the harm: “The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (data brief on marijuana) shows a statistically significant increase in current use among youth in the past two years, and a low perception of harm from marijuana use.”
Psychosis is an effect of marijuana use by youth: “The effects [of marijuana consumption] are broad, such as decreased academic achievement, and specific, like the increase in acute and chronic psychosis, medical conditions that have been increasingly linked to marijuana use among youth.”
Toddlers are at risk for “edibles” poisoning: “Additional advice from the other states that have regulated marijuana focuses on accidental child poisoning, especially among toddlers. Edibles, in particular, seem to be the main issue with toddler poisoning.”
S.54 lacks funding for prevention: “This legislation, as it is currently written, does not have funding for prevention or allow time for the creation and implementation of a comprehensive prevention system….It is not only unacceptable but unconscionable to develop a legal marketplace for marijuana without establishing a dedicated revenue stream for education and prevention.”
Vermont Public Safety Department Commissioner Thomas Anderson also spoke to Senate Judiciary Wednesday morning. Anderson warned about retail marijuana legalization:
More Vermonters will die on highways: “Evidence coming from other states that have legalized recreational marijuana strongly suggests more Vermonters will die on our highways should Vermont continue down the path of commercial legalization. The data from Vermont is equally alarming. In Vermont, marijuana was decriminalized in 2013. In the three-year period pre- and post-decriminalization, there was a 28 percent increase for all motor vehicle crashes where at least one driver tested positive for marijuana. For crashes resulting in a fatality, the increase was over 30 percent.”
Drug-related highway fatalities outnumber alcohol-related fatalities 2-1: “For the past two years, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, fatal crashes involving a driver suspect of driving under the influence of only drugs has eclipsed the number of drivers impaired only by alcohol. Equally disturbing is that 23 of the 68 fatalities — over one-third — involved drivers impaired by drugs alone or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Let me repeat that: over one third of the fatalities on Vermont’s highways last year involved drivers impaired by drugs alone or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Of these 23 drug impaired or drug and alcohol impaired fatalities, 65 percent of the drivers tested positive for Delta 9 THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.”
Commissioner Anderson continued: “Perhaps it is only coincidence that this trend in marijuana related fatalities mirrors Vermont’s push to make marijuana legal and more available through legal sales. Or perhaps it is a wakeup call to Vermonters of what the future holds once marijuana is widely available in stores: more fatal crashes killing more and more Vermonters. That has clearly been the experiences of Colorado and Washington after they legalized the retail sale of marijuana (in addition to increased marijuana use by teenagers).”
Anderson challenged legislators to consider goals of retail marijuana legalization:
“Before enacting this legislation, every legislator should ask themselves what public policy goals are being furthered by this legislation including: 1. Does this legislation protect the welfare of our children and youth? 2. Does this legislation place any Vermonter at risk of injury or death? 3. Does this legislation promote the overall health and wellbeing of Vermonters? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then a “yes” vote on this legislation will be very difficult to justify.”
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.