Roadside Testing Central in Vermont Cannabis Regulation Debate

Gov. Phil Scott wants police officers to have more tools at their roadside disposal to detect possibly impaired drivers

As lawmakers in Vermont continue considering whether the state should set up a system to tax and regulate legal sales of cannabis through licensed retailers, discussions this week have focused on tools available to the men and women in charge of ensuring road safety.

At the Vermont State House in Montpelier Thursday, public safety officials offered a demonstration for lawmakers of technology police would like to use roadside to check a driver’s saliva for the presence of THC—the active substance in cannabis.

At a similar demo Monday, Vermont State Police troopers showed Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, how the tool would work hand-in-hand with other observations and tests to clue investigators into whether a driver is impaired.

“Think of it this way: if you were a juror having to decide guilt or innocence, would you want more evidence or less evidence?” Tom Anderson, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, asked rhetorically in an interview with necn affiliate NBC 5 News Thursday. “And I think from a public policy standpoint, more evidence is always better than less evidence.”

The Governor wants roadside testing if Vermont is to allow regulated and taxed sales of cannabis at licensed retailers. He’s also looking for prevention funding and the ability of individual towns to block marijuana shops as key components of legislation.

However, as committees continue discussing how a regulated cannabis marketplace would work in Vermont, it’s those initial traffic stop screenings that have drawn the most criticism on civil rights grounds and from opponents who argue, scientifically, the tests aren’t worth much. Perhaps they would show a lingering presence of THC, but not necessarily current impairment, opponents of roadside testing say.

“My concern is the accuracy,” said Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, the chair of the Vermont House Judiciary Committee. “We might in fact have false positives or maybe even false negatives. It’s just not accurate.”

Grad supports a tax and regulate system for cannabis sales in Vermont - a topic that has been debated for several years.

“It is frustrating,” said Laura Subin of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana. “The people of Vermont have wanted a taxed-and-regulated system of sales of cannabis to adults for a very long time now, and it’s long overdue for the legislature to catch up.”

Scott Thursday reiterated a point he’s made before—that he feels Vermont should move slowly with something as serious as opening up cannabis stores.

“We have time to do it,” Scott said in response to a question from a reporter. “It doesn’t even have to be this year. We can continue to work on it.”

The governor also pointed out cannabis legalization is not his initiative, and reminded people if Democrats and Progressives in the Legislature could get enough votes, they could override any objections he has with a bill to regulate cannabis sales.

Time is running out for a deal this session on regulated cannabis sales. The Vermont Legislature wraps up its work for the year mid-month.

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