The recommendations of the governor’s marijuana commission included strong recommendations for prevention and education at all levels. They included strong recommendations for public safety, including impaired driving and product testing. Will any of these recommendations make it into policy?

Those of us who work in substance abuse prevention believe that any legislation on taxation and regulation of marijuana should fully address the recommendations of the commission. The last thing we need is a policy that permits outright commercialization, fails to provide funding for prevention, education, health and public safety, and gives the burgeoning marijuana industry carte blanche at the expense of small towns, local control and public health.

“Tax and regulate” should not be about creating an economic growth environment for marijuana producers and sellers.

Most, if not all, industry business models work this way: to be profitable, they require regular, heavy consumers. This runs up against obvious ethical and health concerns when the product is an addictive substance that causes the user to suffer increased physical and mental health problems with increased use. Tobacco is the obvious painful precedent, and it is no mistake that Big Tobacco companies are investing heavily in marijuana businesses.

Creation of habitual heavy users is also not affordable for our society — there will be increased demand for addiction treatment, rehabilitation and emergency room services to address the symptoms of heavy use. Employers will find it harder to find safe and stable employees. There is a link between heavy use and suicide, psychosis and traffic fatalities. This model is unsustainable for nurturing human growth and potential. This is because the industry, to be “successful,” depends on creating addiction, which often begins in youth.

Local control is at the heart of Vermont governance. Any marijuana bill should contain language that protects a town from being an unwitting host to a marijuana business. If a town wants to be part of the industry, they should have to opt in by a defined process, rather than having to opt out through an expensive voting process. The default should be that a town or city is marijuana retail or industry free unless they choose otherwise.

Big Marijuana, like its Big Tobacco predecessor, has powerful industry forces that expect to profit from their investments. Our firm hope is that our youth will live in communities that fully support their health and well-being. We think that most Vermonters do not want marijuana shops in their neighborhoods, near churches, schools and playgrounds. They don’t want signs in the windows of Main Street stores advertising marijuana products. It took us more than 50 years to make progress battling back at Big Tobacco, and Big Tobacco is attempting a major resurgence with e-cigarettes. Let’s try to head Big Marijuana off before we have another major public health and safety crisis.

For more information: Central VT New Directions Coalition,, 802-223-4949.

Ginny Burley is a prevention educator at the Central VT New Directions Coalition.

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