Vermont Will Study Legal Weed

Vermont is taking a closer look at a policy that would suit the liberal Green Mountain State just right: legal marijuana.

The state has hired the Rand Corporation, a leading think tank, to determine what effects legalization would have on the economy, public health, and public safety. The results could inform decision making for years to come.

I Weed VermontWeed is currently legal in just two states, Washington and Colorado. But more are expected to join the party soon. Alaska is set to vote on legalization in November, as is Oregon.

Vermont is not far down the list of likely hot spots for cannabis reform. Lawmakers there voted earlier this year to expand access to the state’s medical marijuana system. And last year Vermont decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of pot.

The Rand study is required by a new state law and is due to be published early in 2015. The report could cost as much as $120,000, though only 20 percent of that will come from public funds. The study will focus in part on anticipated tax revenue from a legal market.

Gov. Peter Shumlin “was clear with me that he wanted to have a thorough and objective study of all of the public policies, not just taxation,” said Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding. “There a lot of things that will be tailored to Vermont’s particular situation.”

In April state lawmakers passed a bill expanding Vermont’s medical marijuana program to cover more patients. The legislation removed a 1,000-patient cap that had been imposed on MMJ dispensaries.

The new law also requires research into “possible taxing systems” for Vermont, other states’ experience with reform, and the costs versus the benefits of legalization.

Spaulding said the study would examine usage rates in the state, long-term health consequences, traffic safety issues, and how much money police would save without cannabis enforcement.

Rand Corporation LogoRand had little to say on the project as of late July, except that more information would be released soon. The non-profit, one of the most important policy research organizations in the world, is neutral on political issues, including marijuana reform.

“We were looking for someone who wasn’t going to make a case that we legalize or not legalize,” Spaulding said.

Rand will study the implications of legalization with help from the state’s health commissioner, the public safety commissioner, and other state officials. There will also be “public outreach, hearings of some kind,” state officials said.

“I think the study will help with legislators and the public who inherently think it’s a good idea but want evidence they can hold up to show people,” said state Sen. David Zuckerman, who plans to sponsor a legalization bill next year.

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