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Vermont cannabis hearing draws supporters, opponents

Vermont lawmakers heard different view on Thursday on a bill to legalize marijuana, although a majority of those who testified before legislative committees said they support the measure.

“I’m a normal, non psychotic guy,” said Bruce Kimball of Essex. “I consider myself a law-abiding citizen, but my use of pot over the years had made me an outlaw. Do I like that? No. … What i would like is the option to purchase pot from a safe, regulated, well-maintained dispensary.”
He was one of several people testifying at the hearing who sought to emphasize the normalcy of their lives despite using marijuana,

The House Judiciary and Government Operations committees heard testimony on a Senate-passed bill to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people 21 and older. Sign-up sheets for those testifying showd 34 favored legalization, 19 is opposed to it and 5 were undecided. The bill also envisions a system of licensed growers and retailers.

Some of those who opposed the bill claimed they were not opposed to the legalization but concerned that it would keep homegrown marijuana illegal and set up fees and other requirements that would favor big business over small farmers and entrepreneurs.

Emly Amanna, who operates a small farm in the southern Vermont town of Athens, said she and other small farmers had hoped marijuana would be an good income to help support marginal operations. However, Senate Bill 241, as it’s currently written, would “take a multi-million-dollar industry out of the hands of good, hardworking Vermonters,” she said, and put it in the hands of a “corporatized, monopolized industry.”

Among other opponents, a doctor and a psychotherapist testified about the dangers of marijuana to brain development in young people, and studies linking it to the onset of mental illness.

Catherine Antley, a Burlington physical, told the committee that Colorado has seen an 8% increase in the number of teenagers (12 – to 17 year old) using marijuana in the first year after that state legalized pot. She also said that one study found that those people who begin using the drug heavily in adolescence dropped an average 8% in performance on IQ tests by the time they became adults.

Some of those testifying said marijuana legalization could help dampen the demand for heroin and other opiods, which President Barack Obama labeled as an epidemic during the week.

Mara D’Haene, a clinical social worker from Barre Town, told lawmakers she had seen opiate-addicted clients switch to marijuana and see big improvements in their lives She also said that opiate users are more likely to lose their children to state custody than marijuana users.

Maxine Grade, House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman and a Moretown Democrat, said the panel hopes to finish its work on the bill next week. She says it’s unclear whether the committee will vote to support the measure.