Vermont lawmakers propose ban on alcohol to make pot point

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Frustrated by stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, two Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would instead ban alcohol and treat it like marijuana.

The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, called it a symbolic step to "recognize recent scientific studies that demonstrate that alcohol use is significantly more dangerous than marijuana."

Under the proposed law, possession of large quantities of alcohol, plus cultivation, distribution or sale of alcohol, would carry criminal penalties with up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Possession of small amounts of alcohol would carry a civil penalty and $500 fine, provided the person with the alcohol is at least 21 years old. Alcohol used as medicine would remain legal.

"This is not something either of us support," Pearson said in a news conference with co-sponsor Rep. Jean O'Sullivan, D- Burlington. "We offer these ideas to stimulate a much-needed discussion to treat marijuana like alcohol.

"Whereas prohibiting the sale and possession of alcohol is a laughable suggestion, the common-sense reaction against the idea should be the same logic we use to consider the continued prohibition of marijuana," he said.

Pearson said that even though marijuana is thought of as something you do in college, alcohol has more ties to campus rape, unprotected sex and intoxicated young people who can't remember whether they consented to sex.

He referenced a study from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence saying alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes, including 37 percent of rapes.

Marijuana increases the likelihood of a fatal crash by 83 percent, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Using alcohol alone increases the likelihood by 575 percent, and using the two together increases the risk by 2,200 percent.

Nine percent of marijuana users become dependent, the New York Times reports, but more than 20 percent of alcohol users do.

"The numbers for pot aren't even in the same league [as alcohol]," Pearson said. "We need to bring [pot] out of the shadows. We need to be able to let families have an open discussion around the dinner table [about using pot]."

O'Sullivan, who sits on House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development co-sponsored the bill. O'Sullivan said there is no economic reason to postpone marijuana legalization.

"If you had 80,000 Vermonters using a product that, according to the Rand study, is over a $200 million annual part of an economy, why wouldn't you want to look at marketing to that group?" O'Sullivan asked.

(The Rand study released for the Legislature in February estimated the black market for marijuana a $125 million to $225 million industry in Vermont.)

"Let the entrepreneurs really build a business around this," O'Sullivan said. "There is a wealth of opportunity that we're losing. Every single day, we lose our brand."

Just before the news conference, Pearson got a high-five from Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden. The two introduced twin bills in the House and Senate this session to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Neither were taken up.

House Speaker Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morristown, has not ruled out legalizing marijuana, and a spokesperson said Wednesday that he is keeping his mind open to the idea. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he supports legalization but is in no hurry to do so.


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