BENNINGTON >> Of the approximately 28 people who spoke Monday on marijuana legalization, about 15 were in favor of legalization, while 13 were against it.
They spoke before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, which planned to hold similar hearings in Brattleboro, Springfield, St. Johnsbury, and Burlington. The Bennington hearing was held at the fire facility in River Street where people filled the top floor conference room.
"This is your chance to talk to us," said Judiciary committee Chairman, Dick Sears, D-Bennington.
The committee has already begun taking testimony on two bills, "S.241 An act relating to personal possession and cultivation of cannabis and the regulation of commercial cannabis establishments," and "S.95 An act relating to regulation and taxation of marijuana."
He said the committee plans to take more testimony at the Statehouse in Montpelier.
"Next week, we will begin marking up the bill and will make the final decision on Friday, the 29th of January, whether to advance the bill or not advance the bill," he said. "That will be a public vote, nothing behind closed doors or anything like that."
Once it leaves the Judiciary committee, it will go to the Senate Committee on Finance, where Chittenden County Senator Tim Ashe is chairman. He also sits on the Judiciary committee.
John Zink, a former Bennington County undersheriff, Bennington Police Officer, and DARE program coordinator, said the state already has problems with drugs and alcohol, especially amongst young people.
"I, for the life of me, cannot possibly understand how we can possibly regulate the use of marijuana amongst teenagers," Zink said. "I know that we are going to make every effort, I have confidence that you are going to try to do this, but there is a reality, folks, and I've seen that reality for over 30 years."
Arthur Peterson said Vermont prides itself on being a healthy, safe state, something he feels will be jeopardized if marijuana is legalized.
"I'm dead set against any attempt at legalizing marijuana," he said.
Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, there have been increases in traffic fatalities as a result, Peterson said. "Emergency room visits have gone way up since marijuana legalization in Colorado," he said.
Peterson said legalization will lead to more children using marijuana, which is not what the state wants to see happen.
The people who spoke often gave conflicting accounts of the impact marijuana legalization has had on other states, and countries.
"I want to address what the gentleman who spoke before me (Peterson) just said, it's characteristic of a lot of the misinformation that's being peddled by prohibitionists," said Bradley Myerson, an attorney practicing in Manchester. "Based upon what I've read in newspaper articles and online, there is no explosion of teen marijuana use in Colorado, there has been no explosion in emergency room fatalities, there has been no exponential increase of traffic accidents in Colorado."
He said, in response to past arguments about problems law enforcement will have in addressing "drugged drivers," that the state already trains police to detect marijuana and other drug use by motorists.
"I can't believe we're up to this, if you can't fight them, join them attitude," said Bennington resident and former legislator Dick Pembroke. "I also don't understand how anyone could become an addict when everyday I read from the press, or hear on radio, or see on TV, multiple folks in trouble after experiencing that first step."
He said more effort must be put into detention systems that do not cost as much as they do now.
"I ask that you terminate your road trips, go back and give the proposed state budget an enema and reverse the trend of increasing the budget from 5 percent against a 3 percent revenues source," Pembroke said. "No more new programs. It seems like every day I'm informed of an agency or administration that is short of funds for what they need to operate. Let's take care of what we're responsible for, and I vote no for marijuana legalization."
Funds from marijuana taxes could be used to pay for education efforts, which have been shown to work, said Ben Simpson. "The current policy of prohibition has failed," he said. "Good public health measures can actually affect use, particularly among kids.
He said under the current laws, marijuana use in children has not gone down, meanwhile tobacco use has, because of efforts to educate children on how harmful smoking is.