Let it grow

Let it grow

Will Vermont lag behind with legislation that keeps the legal marijuana economy out of the hands of all but a privileged few?

Recently, I chaired the first meeting of the newly formed Vermont Chapter of Women Grow.

For those who are not familiar with Women Grow, it is perhaps the fastest-growing organization in the cannabis industry and was profiled in a 2015 Newsweek cover story on women taking over the billion-dollar cannabis industry.

During the meeting, discussions turned to the current debate in Montpelier over the legalization of cannabis across the board in Vermont.

Amid strong feelings and ideas emerged frustration that under the proposed legislation, Vermonters will not be able to consume, grow, and build businesses around the cannabis industry, except for the rare few.

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This winter has been relatively mild with lower heating prices as an enormous blessing. Even so, countless Vermonters are scraping by with lower incomes than usual due to their dependency on snow-based work for their livelihood.

Whether they are employed at one of the ski resorts throughout the state, provide snow plowing, or are engaged in other service industries that depend on annual snowfall, people are experiencing economic hardship.

With a population of approximately 630,000, we Vermonters need to take advantage of whatever economic opportunities we have to help support one another.

Surrounding states have far more people and land, making it harder for us to compete as our neighbors pass legalization laws of their own. Make no mistake - Massachusetts will legalize cannabis by the end of this year, and other New England states will be right behind.

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I was born in Burlington during my father's first year in medical school at the University of Vermont. The state is for the most part the same as it was 60 years ago when I arrived at Mary Fletcher Hospital.

Vermont is an extraordinary place to live, filled with beauty, grace, and character in the landscape and in the people. But it is not an easy lifestyle for many who live within the state, and we all know this to be true. Our young people are forced to move elsewhere in search of job opportunities and careers.

Governor Peter Shumlin put forth in his State of the State address in January his support of legalizing cannabis in Vermont. The majority of Vermonters are in favor of legalization, and countless people would prefer a few puffs of a joint rather than a drink.

What is mind boggling is how our Vermont legislature is dissecting the cannabis bill as it makes its way from committee to committee and, as a result, how it now bears no resemblance to the original bill.

My personal amusement comes from the fact that, as anyone familiar with cannabis knows, little will actually change within the state once legalized. The same people who consume cannabis now will be consuming cannabis after legislation is passed.

Our focus needs to be on educating and empowering the state to ensure that our youth are informed with parental guidance and school support receiving whatever assistance they need to advise the young people in their care. I suspect that the same number of teens will be smoking pot once it is legal.

With legislation, Vermont can realize countless financial benefits that go hand in hand with our economy, which is based on tourism. Focusing on finances is our biggest challenge and goal. Smoking will take care of itself, in my opinion.

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At the meeting, we discussed the Civil Rights era, Bernie Sanders' campaign, and the success of Bill McKibben and 350.org in protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline in front of the White House, resulting in his and others' arrest for their nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.

I had the privilege of getting to know Henry Hampton, the visionary who produced the documentary series Eyes on the Prize: The History of Black America. From Eyes, I learned the importance of grassroots organizing, the power of the pocketbook, and how moral, correct thinking has a way of succeeding, given time and determination. PBS shows the series from time to time and if you have not seen it, I highly recommend it.

We discussed how we as a relatively large network of cannabis supporters within Vermont can make a statement in support of the plant.

We could protest as 350.org did and get arrested for smoking pot in front of the Statehouse in Montpelier, or we can vote with our pocketbooks. One suggestion: not purchasing alcohol until recreational cannabis is legal, too. We need to come up with a plan and implement it.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott went on for over a year, but it was effective. Now is the time to send a clear message to our elected officials that the majority of Vermonters want legalization. We are in no danger of “reefer madness” or much of anything actually changing at all. And if you don't believe me, then I suggest you spend a few thousand hours doing the research that I have done so that you are at least informed.

In early February, 1,300 women flew to Denver, Colo. to attend the Women Grow conference. That number represents lots of dinners and hotel reservations and countless other ways that new revenue streams found their way into Colorado.

I look forward to the day when we can plan a Women Grow conference at one of the Vermont ski resorts that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year to our beautiful state. But, until legalization is passed, Vermont will not benefit from the $1 billion cannabis industry to the extent that it could and should.

To delay cannabis legalization any longer is just plain foolish. And I have not even mentioned the importance of industrial hemp to Vermont's economy.

Please let us restore the cannabis plant to its rightful position within American and Vermont life.

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