Federal and state officials collaborate on marijuana standardization proposals at national conference

Democratic and progressive lawmakers in Vermont introduced a new bill this week to decriminalize drug possession — a policy they hope will serve as a harm reduction tool that can also help address racial disparities in the nation. ‘application.

Reps. Logan Nicoll (D) and Selene Colburn (P) introduced the bill, which would make possession and distribution of low levels of currently illegal drugs punishable by a $50 fine, with no threat of jail time. People could be waived the fee by undergoing a health screening that would be facilitated by a new treatment referral system.

The bill would amend the state’s drug possession and distribution law to make people subject to a civil penalty if the amount of the drug in question falls below a “personal use” threshold. benchmark” that would be determined by a new drug use standards advisory board. .

This council would be made up of “experts in the fields of general and behavioral health care, substance use disorder treatment, and substance use communities,” according to the text of the bill.

The proposal would also remove criminal penalties for sharing small amounts of currently illicit drugs without compensation.

Already, 40 initial co-sponsors have signed up to support the proposal, nearly a third of Vermont House. Colburn told Marijuana Moment in an interview Tuesday that she wants to see the legislature engage on this issue in a way lawmakers in other states have, such as neighboring Maine, where the House has approved a decriminalization bill last year.

The legislator said she has ‘spoken with many people on the front line, many people with lived experience, and the vast majority of those people will share that the involvement of the justice system has been a hindrance and a hindrance. to their recovery, or even just their access to life-saving drugs or harm reduction tools.

“We’re trying to be very clear in talking about this bill that the vast majority of people who use drugs are not people with substance use disorder,” said Colburn. “So it’s also a matter of civil liberties. But for people who [do have substance misuse disorders], the impacts of criminalization have caused and continue to cause so much harm.

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A recent report presented to the Vermont legislature by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments also underscores the need for reform, the lawmaker said.

He revealed that black people are more than six times more likely to be incarcerated in Vermont than white people. They are also about three to four times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses despite having comparable rates of use across races. In drug offense cases, blacks were about 14 times more likely to be charged than whites.

Dave Silberman, Addison County‘s top bailiff and volunteer drug reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment that the bill’s introduction with such a large number of lawmakers signing on signals a change in the way elected officials address drug issues.

“Whether or not this decriminalization bill passes, I think it’s really important that we have a conversation in the legislature about decriminalization as a harm reduction tool and as a tool to reduce the racial disparities that we see in Vermont police and prisons, which are really really awful,” he said.

“We just need to take a more comprehensive harm reduction view of our drug problem in Vermont in order to save lives and keep people alive, not put them in jail because jail isn’t working,” he said. said Silberman. “In fact, we find that when people go to prison with an opioid use disorder, they come out of prison, they are much more likely to die of an overdose than if they had never been there. to start.”

Colburn and Nicoll filed similar decriminalization legislation last year, but it has not moved forward. The hope is that because there has been a broader, less partisan consensus that criminalizing people for drugs is the wrong approach, legislative leaders will agree to at least hold hearings on the reform proposal in the coming weeks.

Also this year, Colburn will work to advance a separate bill to license overdose prevention sites in the state — a policy that advocates say would provide another critical harm reduction tool. And while she would like to see her broader decriminalization proposal enacted, the lawmaker also noted that there is significant bipartisan interest in a separate reform measure to decriminalize convictions for certain drug offenses by making them instead misdemeanors.

The new decriminalization bill also has support from the National Drug Policy Alliance, as well as other advocacy groups like the ACLU of Vermont.

“Historically, substance use has been treated as a crime rather than a chronic disease, and Vermont laws have used a traditional model of punitive criminal justice that has proven unsuccessful in improving public health and reducing crime. sometimes associated with substance use,” the findings section of the bill reads.

“Pursuing a model of decriminalization of controlled amounts of drugs for personal use would allow Vermont to redirect money and resources from prosecution and incarceration toward prevention, harm reduction strategies, and treatment offering better outcomes for all Vermonters,” he said.

A separate bill to remove criminal penalties for herbal and mushroom substances such as psilocybin, mescaline, ibogaine and DMT was also introduced last year by Rep. Brian Cina (P / D) and is still in effect for the two-year legislative session. .

Outside of Vermont, bills to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and more broadly reduce penalties for nonviolent drug offenses have been pre-introduced for the 2022 session in neighboring New Hampshire.

These states could legalize marijuana or psychedelics in 2022

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