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Louras,Dubie Speaks Out Against Marijuana Law


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MONTPELIER -- The mayors of Barre and Rutland joined Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in opposing a bill that lowers the criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, warning that it is a step backward in the battle against drugs. Dubie, who presided over the Vermont Senate last week as it easily passed a bill removing jail time for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, said Friday Vermont's prosecutors told him they worry the bill will make their jobs harder.

"We shouldn't be second-guessing our state's attorneys and removing some of the tools from their toolbox," said Dubie, who added that the threat of marijuana possession prosecution could be useful for investigators in situations involving other drugs. "This sends a message that we don't think they are doing their job properly." The mayors of two Vermont cities that have experienced serious drug problems in recent years joined Dubie in his opposition.

Barre City Mayor Thomas Lauzon, who favors decriminalization of marijuana, said he opposes the bill because it does not "go far enough" in stimulating a wide discussion of drug policy and other related issues, and takes away powers from prosecutors. Lauzon and other opponents said Friday that a provision of the bill calling on the Vermont Sentencing Commission to review the state's drug laws is not a wide enough view of the problem. Lauzon suggested lawmakers instead look at ways of boosting funding for drug task forces, which are facing shortfalls because of a decrease in federal funding. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is expected to announce funding for the task forces today.

Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras was unable to attend the Friday morning Statehouse news conference, but Dubie read a statement from the mayor that called the marijuana bill "troubling" in the face of the recent drug-related violence in the city. A shooting over an alleged marijuana deal in Rutland recently left one man dead. "I implore to the state Legislature to leave this bill alone," Louras' statement read. "It is not the right time to take this issue up when all public officials should be speaking with one voice that any illegal drug activity, and the criminal violence it brings, must be met head on with force and unity."

Friday's news conference marked the first organized attempt to stall or block the marijuana bill as it moves to the House Judiciary Committee having easily received the OK from the Vermont Senate this week.

"If this doesn't do much, then why are we doing this?" asked Sen. George Coppenrath, R-Caledonia, who unsuccessfully tried to change portions of the bill on the Senate floor this week. "Young children are getting confused from the message coming from the Statehouse."

The bill passed by the Senate would allow those caught for the first or second time with an ounce or less of marijuana to either accept a fine ranging from $500 to $750 or enter the court diversion program. Penalties, including jail time, would still be in place for larger amounts of the drug.

Supporters, including Windsor County prosecutor Robert Sand, who inspired the legislation when he came out in support of changing the state's drug laws last year, say the bill puts into law the existing practice of sending most, if not all, first-time marijuana possession cases to the diversion program.

Meanwhile, Deb Haskins, an alcohol and drug counselor, warned that marijuana represents a grave threat to Vermont's youth, as she linked smoking the plant with health problems, poor school performance, risky sex and car crashes. She said she recently spoke to a group of eighth-graders, one of whom thought lawmakers were legalizing marijuana. Vermont youth "don't understand what this bill is about," and are getting a message that pot is not harmful, she said. "There is not a single counselor in the school system that supports this law," said Haskins, who works in the state's school system on substance abuse issues.

Haskins' statements prompted at least one member of the Vermont press to ask Friday: "Doesn't this rhetoric sound like 'Reefer Madness'?" "Refer Madness" is the notorious 1936 anti-marijuana film that features young kids who toke up finding themselves entangled in car accidents, murder, suicide, rape and madness? No, responded Haskins, who added that her statements are backed by studies and health reports. 'Reefer Madness' was based on lies and scare tactics," she said.

Gov. James Douglas has taken a wait-and-see approach to the marijuana bill, saying this week that it still has many legislative hurdles to go before it would land on his desk for a signature or veto. He added that he shares the worry that Vermont's youth might get the wrong message from the proposed change.

House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, said Friday during her weekly meeting with reporters that she had briefly spoken that morning with Dubie about his concerns, but hadn't issued any directives to Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"I'm not seeing a ton of Vermonters ask me about this bill," Symington said, who added that it is not one of her priorities for the session.

Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Rutland Herald
Contact: letters@rutlandherald.com
Website: Rutland Herald: Rutland Vermont News & Information
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He's not a good dubie.
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