Marijuana law reform backers say voters care
Vermont Press Bureau | October 01,2012
Both major party gubernatorial candidates seem to think there’s political hay to harvest this fall over the issue of marijuana decriminalization. But will candidates’ positions on weed reform really be a deciding factor for voters in November?
Matt Simon, who oversees the politics of cannabis in Vermont for the Marijuana Policy Project, says it will.
“In speaking to voters and hearing their interest in finding out where candidates stand on (decriminalization), you find out it does motivate some people,” Simon said last week.
Simon admits he lacks any research evidence to back up the theory.
“It’s hard to find hard data to support it,” he said.
Vidda Crochetta, co-founder of the Vermont-based group Marijuana Resolve, said it’s a real issue for tens of thousands of Vermonters, many of whom, he said, will use candidates’ positions on decriminalization as the basis for their voting decisions. According to Crochetta, a 2007 survey found that more than 50,000 Vermont adults smoke pot.
“And because self-reporting surveys like this almost always under-report usage, the actual number is probably closer to 100,000,” Crochetta said. “These are people who have a vested interest in the outcome of decriminalization, and it’s difficult to imagine that it won’t be a major factor in at least some of their voting decisions.”
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, is less confident the issue will sway the electorate.
“Support for decriminalization seems to be broadening,” Davis said. “But I don’t see this is going to affect the outcomes of any races whatsoever.”
Despite polls indicating overwhelming support for decriminalization in Vermont, Republican candidate Randy Brock seems to think his opposition to the concept is an electoral winner. In the kickoff to the gubernatorial debate season, Brock used his first question to criticize the Democratic incumbent’s stand on the issue.
In their second debate last week, Brock again tried to hammer Gov. Peter Shumlin on decriminalization.
“I think it sends a terrible message to Vermonters,” Brock said. “I think it sends a terrible message to Vermont families.”
Shumlin, however, has allies in his push for decriminalization from members of the Vermont GOP, including the Republican leader of the Vermont Senate, who, in a survey conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project, said he supports the replacement of criminal sanctions for small-time marijuana possession with civil fines.
Washington County Sen. Bill Doyle also told the group he supports lifting the 1,000-person cap that now limits the number of Vermonters eligible for medical marijuana cards.
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State Treasurer Beth Pearce last week defended her office against allegations of “mismanagement” after a records request showed that one deputy director had clocked at least 1,000 hours of overtime in each of the past three years.
Deputy Director of Retirement Operations Laurie Lanphear logged 1,132 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2012 alone, boosting her base salary of $58,219 by an additional $31,684, according to records acquired by Republican challenger Wendy Wilton.
Lanphear’s overtime pay was nearly double the next highest recipient of overtime in the treasurer’s office, and Wilton seized on the number as evidence of poor oversight by the first-term Democratic incumbent.
“Regardless of the reason, having an employee work 1,000 hours beyond the 2,080 work hours in any given calendar year reflects poor management,” Wilton said in a written statement.
She noted that Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding earlier this year issued a government-wide memo urging department heads to keep overtime to a minimum, and that a state labor contract advises supervisors to distribute overtime as equitably as possible.
“Pearce’s style presents undue risk and an internal control problem,” Wilton said. “This should be a grave concern to Vermont taxpayers and state officials.”
Wilton obviously is looking to seize on the overtime controversy that continues to brew in the wake of the arrest of a former state police officer charged with juicing hours on his time card.
But in a competing release, the Pearce camp shot back, saying Lanphear was “performing a full-time job while also covering for previously cut positions, thereby saving taxpayer dollars.”
The Democratic incumbent’s campaign manager said Pearce’s “prudent management” has led the office to operate under-budget over the past two years, returning more than $500,000 to the general fund.
“We call on Wendy Wilton to apologize for the false assertion against Treasurer Pearce,” Emerson said. “We also ask that she publicly apologize to the hardworking Vermont state employees that have gone above and beyond to perform their necessary services to our state no matter the circumstance.”