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|Peter Shumlin: “We need to have an honest conversation with Vermonters”|
A Vermont gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday said the state should decriminalize marijuana to help free up prison space and better spend money on education and other social needs.
“We need to have an honest conversation with Vermonters about changing laws that are diverting resources and attention from real problems, and filling our prisons up with folks that shouldn’t be there,” said Vermont State Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin (D-Putney), who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“I believe it is a mistake to be sending young people on second, third, fourth offenses to prison on marijuana-related charges,” said Shumlin, who has previously sponsored a decriminalization bill. “That’s where we could make a difference.”
None of the other four candidates in a Tuesday forum with Shumlin called for marijuana decriminalization, which was also opposed by outgoing Republican Gov. James Douglas, reports John P. Gregg of the Rutland Herald.
However, former state Sen. Matt Dunne (D-Hartland) and Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz (D-Montpelier) both said the state needs to take a look at how it punishes people for marijuana possession and other petty crimes.
Dunne said lawmakers need to “connect the dots and right-size the way we punish people” and said an federal Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 91 in Hartford was overloadinbg local courts by “going after individuals who have small amounts of marijuana… it’s crazy,” he said.
Markowitz agreed that Vermont needs to rethink how it punishes people for petty crimes. “We need to think differently about how we are dealing with crimes related to a drug habit,” she said.
After the debate, Windor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand, who said he has long favored a proposal to regulate and tax marijuana, gave kudos to Shumlin for taking on the issue of decriminalization.
“Other people talked generally about emphasizing treatment,” Sand said. “Peter was the only one who had a significant proposal about changing marijuana laws. I was happy to hear that. I hope that discussion continues.”