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Why Vermont's Governor Opposes Marijuana But Supports Legalization

Bernie Sanders has some competition for the unofficial title of America's most progressive politician on marijuana. His competitor isn't another candidate for president. It's the head of the Sanders' home state of Vermont, where Governor Peter Shumlin has risen to prominence recently for putting the Green Mountain State on track to become the first to legalize recreational marijuana use through the statehouse.

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska all repealed statewide prohibition through voter-initiated ballot questions. But Vermont began doing things differently in January, when Governor Shumlin called on legislators to end marijuana prohibition in Vermont.

Now, he's the leading voice on state-initiated attempts to reform cannabis laws. And he's calling on other states to follow his example. Here are five things you should know about Shumlin and his views on marijuana and legalization.

1. Shumlin is actually anti-marijuana

Although he's taking a radical lead on the issue, Shumlin is surprisingly conservative in his personal attitude toward marijuana. In fact, he strongly opposes marijuana use, even if some of his reasons are misguided. "I don't want Vermonters smoking pot," he told Katy Steinmetz of TIME. "It makes you kind of goofy and unproductive. I have alcoholism in my family, and I gotta tell you, that's a really bad idea. It destroys lives, destroys families. I also don't think you should smoke cigarettes."

So why does he want to legalize marijuana? As a realist, he recognizes that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy. "I'm always surprised that we talk about pot as if we don't have legal alcohol and legal tobacco sales. Government doesn't want you doing any of those things in excess but to continue to pretend that by outlawing marijuana, you're keeping it out of the hands of kids and adults is a level of denial that as governor—I can't live in La La Land…"

2. But he's tried it

Governor Shumlin may oppose marijuana, but he isn't embarrassed to admit that he's tried it before. "I was in Vermont in the '70s," he told TIME. "We inhaled."

3. Legalization kills the black market

Vermont decriminalized possession and use of marijuana in 2013, but Shumlin says that's not enough to keep the public safe and to regulate the market. "[Y]ou still have to go buy it from a drug dealer," he told TIME. "They don't care what they sell you from their cache, whether it's marijuana or other drugs. They don't care how young you are....Denial has never been a good economic development strategy. And if I didn't believe that by regulating, you'd have a better shot getting it out of the hands of kids - having a regulated product where you know what's in it and driving the criminal element out of the market - I wouldn't be proposing this."

4. Staunch prohibition states are in denial

Governor Shumlin is open to discussing legalization, but he finds it frustrating when legislators act as though their state doesn't already have a problem with marijuana:

"When we had this debate - to legalize, not to legalize - the reasons to not legalize are almost always as if you don't have a problem already. Like, what's it going to mean for our kids? Well, kids will tell you it's easier to get pot in Vermont than it is alcohol. Then they say, what about people who are drugged driving on the roads? Well, what about the one in eight Vermonters who are using recreational marijuana right now? So if you're willing to acknowledge that you have a problem, you're much better dealing with a regulated market than an unregulated market."

5. He's not a fan of edibles

Governor Shumlin wants to keep Vermont from making the same mistakes as other legal states. The governor lists edibles as the top mistake.

The Vermont bill would "ban the sale of edibles which have caused so many problems in Colorado," wrote Shumlin in a blog for the state government's website. In the same post, he criticized the ballot initiative in his state's southern neighbor: Massachusetts.

"[Our] approach is in stark contrast to the one proposed in the Massachusetts referendum [ballot initiative] that will be voted on in November, which would allow edibles that have caused huge problems in other states, smoking lounges, home delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana. Vermont's bill allows none of that."

Many Massachusetts lawmakers are also concerned about marijuana brownies, gummy bears, lollipops and cookies. But Jim Borghesani, the communications director for the group campaigning to legalize marijuana in the Bay State, says that worries over edibles are exaggerated and outdated.

"He [Shumlin] seems to focus on edibles as a negative and, unfortunately, I think he's falling into the same exaggerations when it comes to edibles that a lot of other people have. The problems with edibles in Colorado were pretty much contained to the first year of legal sales. The packaging has been changed, the portioning has been changed. It's a learning process."

Shumlin agrees with Borghesani in principle, but he'd rather see Vermont learn about marijuana in a slow and cautious way.

"I'm not saying never [to edibles]," he said. "I'm just saying let the other states that are wrestling with edibles continue to wrestle with it [first]."

h/t The Huffington Post, The Cannabist, Lowell Sun, Time.


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