Legalized Marijuana Proposal Divides Recovery Community

Following the introduction of nearly-identical bills in the Vermont Senate and House of Representatives that proposed the legalization of recreational marijuana, members of Vermont’s recovery community appear divided on the idea.

“I don’t see marijuana as the slippery slope we once thought it was,” said Raina Lowell, a recovering heroin addict and advocate for greater understanding of the many impacts of drug addiction.

Necn spoke to Lowell at Recovery Day at the Vermont Statehouse. The event is a celebration of recovery from addiction, which aims to raise awareness of personal struggles and triumphs, and focus attention on behavioral health needs. The overall message of the event was that recovery is possible, worth striving for, and that supports exist for people who want to want to seek the oftentimes delicate goal of recovery.

“I think the money we could get from the marijuana tax in Vermont could go to help build recovery centers and treatment centers for people who are suffering from and fighting really serious addictions to opiates, heroin, crack, alcohol—drugs that are far more dangerous and life-threatening than marijuana,” Lowell said.

However, Lowell told necn the issue is deeply personal and has proven to be divisive among members of the recovery community.

“I’m very concerned,” said Mark Ames, who said he is in long-term recovery from the disease of addiction. “The policy-makers have a lot of interesting discussions ahead of them.”

Ames, who said he has been sober 32 years, shared with necn how he once was a problem drinker and used marijuana, which he said led him to other drugs. He now coordinates the Vermont Recovery Network, which links 11 recovery centers in Vermont that stress peer support.

“Addictive disease comes with OxyContin, it comes with alcohol, it comes with marijuana. The substance is not so much of an issue as what happens to some people who get into trouble,” Ames said. “This is an issue that’s fraught with peril as far as people slipping into trouble. The more available marijuana is, the more likely people are going to slip into trouble.”

New polling by the Castleton Polling Institute suggests a slight majority of people in Vermont support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The February phone survey of 700 Vermonters found 54 percent in favor of legalization, with 40 percent opposed. Six percent had no opinion, and there was a four percent margin of error.

The pollsters said people under 45 years old were far more likely to support the notion than folks over 65. Click here to read more findings from the Castleton Polling Institute.

Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, introduced the bill in the House of Representatives that would regulate and tax marijuana for legal use by people over 21. “It’s not a good argument to keep prohibition,” Pearson said.

The Progressive explained he wants tight controls on legal pot, which would be grown and sold by approved businesses. He also wants to keep existing rules against smoking in public and driving high.

“We don’t want to give young Vermonters the idea that this is okay,” Pearson said. “Our proposal, would, I believe, actually make it harder to have a black market around marijuana, and I think that would have a good potential impact on the relative ease of our young Vermonters getting access to marijuana today.”

You can expect the legislature to really dig into the marijuana debate in 2016.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden County, introduced the legalization bill in the Vermont Senate. He said this winter that approximately 80,000 Vermonters use marijuana at least once a month, likely spending between $125-$225 million a year buying marijuana from the black market.
Legalization could create more business opportunities from “marijuana tourism,” he argued.

However, in an necn story from February, a leading member of Vermont law enforcement voiced his opposition to the idea on the eve of the bills’ introductions.

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