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Full College Reopening May Endanger the Community

My letter to the editor of the Addison County Independent, in the Thursday, July 2 edition: The recently announced plans for reopening of Middlebury College this fall pose new risks for college employees, students and the larger community. I recognize the college faces a very difficult set of circumstances. But the current plans regarding testing … Continue reading

  • The old joke goes that the only time you need to lock your car doors in Vermont is during the summer, because if you leave your car unlocked someone will fill it with extra zucchini from their garden. Now there’s a new plant that’s becoming just as common. Of all the things I thought I’d never see in this life — gay marriage, the Red Sox winning the World Series, Donald Trump as president — legal marijuana tops the list. Yet here we are over a decade into medical marijuana legalization and nearly two years into Vermont’s one-of-a-kind experiment with legal reefer. I grew up when pot/grass/dope was illegal and weak — and tons of fun if you smoked enough of it. When sinsemilla (sticky bud) became more widely available, it was hard to get used to how potent and expensive it was. Now that weed is legal, it’s hard to break the habit of thinking there’s something illicit about this most entertaining of plants. Years ago, while in the tea leaf trance, we used to shake our heads at the insanity of sending people to prison for simple possession. Now we shake our heads in bemusement at the fact that you literally can’t give it away. Buying weed in Vermont today is for suckers. Ask around and you’ll find a friend, or a friend of a friend, who has grown so much pot that they’d be happy to give you a couple buds. Marijuana is so common, in fact, that Ripton journalist Sue Halpern recently did a story for the New Yorker Radio Hour titled “In Vermont, Marijuana Is the New Zucchini.” When growing your own grass became legal last year, she said only half jokingly, “You had to beat people away who wanted to just show up at your house and give it to you.” As Blueberry Hill innkeeper Shari Brown put it to her, “I can see it just landing on my front door step, couldn’t you?” A friend of mine dries the plants he grows by hanging them upside down in his basement. He trims and saves the buds. The shake falls to the concrete floor, where he sweeps it up and puts it in the compost. That’s the stuff we used to smoke. What was once gold is now garbage. Vermont is unique largely because we can legally grow two mature marijuana plants, possess up to an ounce when out in public — and gift weed to others. Halpern says it’s the gifting that helps make us different. Her report featured Jeff Bugay, a Proctor resident who consults with Vermont residents on growing hemp and marijuana. (He claims that CBD and high THC cannabis got him off having to take 84 pills a week for epilepsy. Everybody’s got a story.) A consultation from Bugay’s company includes advice an information packet and advice on how to grow marijuana. And, oh yeah, “free” potted plants, seeds or cuttings. It’s essentially a way to drive a huge truck through a loophole in the law. Vermont’s attorney general, T.J. Donovan, has made it clear that he regards gifting of this sort to be illegal. But Donovan also wants to be either governor or U.S. senator. So it’s doubtful that he wants to run for higher office while being known as the guy who prosecutes people for using a legal loophole to grow legal marijuana. Another key state official on this issue is Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. He and his wife run an organic farm in Hinesburg. They’ve also joined dozens of other Vermonters in growing hemp. Zuckerman has learned that he has to be sure he harvests his hemp before it becomes “too hot” — too high in THC, which would make it marijuana and the lieutenant governor a potential felon. Zuckerman has been all-in for legalization since his days as a UVM student. “I have advocated for a well regulated dispensary system that would promote small-scale agricultural production with a craft product,” he told Halpern, “much like we have on our beer side of things, that would draw tourists who would then stay at our B-and-B’s, hike in our mountains and do all the other things people do in Vermont — and really expand our economy.” It remains to be seen if Vermont will ever go that route, at least under Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who has taken a libertarian approach to marijuana. Scott pretends to worry that a tax-and-regulate approach would pose challenges for testing driver safety and expose underage people to the drug. Yet he signed the current situation into law — which of course has long posed challenges for testing driver safety and under-age exposure. Maybe it’s just a temporary condition, that Vermont is currently awash in marijuana. Perhaps the grow-your-own craze will fade. It’s unlikely, though, given that even before legalization, a Rand report found Vermonters smoke weed in abundance. (Maybe it’s the long winters.) Perhaps Vermont will maintain things the way they are, gifting loophole and all. It would be hard under tax-and-regulate to keep out the big industrial growers of marijuana, and who wants to see a dispensary on every corner anyway. Maybe we’ll just leave all that tax revenue on the table, and stick with homegrown. Most evenings I prefer a martini glass instead of a bong. But it’s clear to me that whatever route the state ultimately takes, marijuana is not going away. It’s just too much joyful fun. Jia Tolentino, another New Yorker writer, put it nicely during an interview for the “Green Rush” series. A self-described career stoner, she rhapsodized about the joys of listening to music while high — “it makes so much space within the song and you can hear the math of it” — and recalled being at an outdoor music festival where Tame Impala was performing. ”It’s sunset, everyone’s high, everyone’s having a really good time,” she said. “And there was this part halfway through ‘Let it Happen’ where the song just starts vamping and it sort of sticks. I remember listening to it, you know, the sky is pink and all my friends are around me and we are all just super-stoned. It felt like everything had frozen and we were just in this really really good loop — forever.”   - 30 -
  • With the election less than two weeks away, I sat down recently with President Donald Trump for another of our intermittent (and imaginary) political “discussions.” GD: Mr. President, I understand you’ve taken a surprising amount of interest in the Addison County State Senate race. Why is that? DT: You’ve got this guy Paul Ralston in the race. He’s a lot like me. GD: How so? DT: Well, he saw the light. He used to be a Democrat and now he’s a Republican. GD: Actually, sir, he’s running as an independent. DT: He and his running mate, Marie Audet, did a fundraiser with the Republican governor. So draw your own conclusions. GD: What are your thoughts about Ms. Audet, the other independent in that race? DT: Well, I can’t say. I haven’t seen a picture of her. When it comes to women candidates I go by looks. GD: She says she has a strong environmental record as a farmer using Cow Power and wind power. But it’s also clear she would be a strong advocate for conventional agriculture, meaning dairy. Agriculture is the biggest polluter of Lake Champlain, so some people are unsure where she’ll come out on clean water regulations. And by the way, your tariffs are hurting our dairy and maple sugar industries. DT: We’re going to fix that. Once we get beautiful clean coal keeping Vermonters warm again and put all those Vermont coal miners back to work, people will have forgotten all about the tariffs. I understand your towns even have someone designated to be the weigher of the coal. GD: That’s true, but it’s an historical holdover. Nobody actually weighs the coal. We don’t mine coal here and we don’t have any coal miners. DT: Whatever. GD: You might be interested to know that there is also an openly Republican candidate in the Senate race, Peter Briggs. And a Libertarian, Archie Fowler. DT: At least you’ve got a couple sensible people running for office. GD: Let’s talk about Vermont’s governor, Phil Scott. DT: Wait — is he the one who supported those new gun control laws? GD: Yes, he did. On the other hand, he vetoed bills to provide paid family leave, raise the minimum wage and protect children against dangerous chemicals in toys. But then again, he also signed a bill partially legalizing marijuana and came out against having local Vermont police enforce immigration laws. And he said he doesn’t want the state to provide the feds with personal information that could be used to create a registry of minorities — Muslims, for example. DT: Well, I thought he was a Republican but obviously not. I guess he’s really part of the angry, despicable Democratic Party mob. Democrats proved they would say anything to destroy a good, hard-partying beer bro like Brett Kavanaugh. They want open borders, higher taxes, amnesty for gang members and other illegals, and they don’t care about the national emergy (sic) in Mexico, where unknown Middle Easterners are about to attack us at the border. It’s almost as bad as the situation was in Nambia (sic). GD: Actually, sir, Phil Scott is a lifelong Republican. DT: That’s gotta be fake news. Has he body-slammed any reporters? GD: Not a single one. In fact, he’s known for being a courteous guy. DT: What a wimp. And why aren’t Vermonters worried about Canadians and unknown Middle Eastern terrorists invading across the border from Montreal? GD: Well, the Canadians seem pretty content to stay where they are. Maybe it’s the legal marijuana. And there’s no credible evidence that terrorists are trying to come across the Canadian border. If I could, sir, let’s go back to the Addison County State Senate race. What about the other candidates? Ruth Hardy has served on the school board and leads a group that trains women to run for office. Sen. Chris Bray supported clean-water legislation and local control over wind and solar projects, and helped grow Vermont agriculture through the Farm to Plate Program. DT: They’re obviously part of the Democratic Party that hates America and wants to see us fail. GD: I think most Vermonters have a more favorable view of Democrats. DT: Another piece of fake news. I won Vermont in 2016, you know. Bigly. GD: Actually, sir, you didn’t even get a third of the vote. DT: I would have won in a fair election. It was obviously rigged. What about all those Mexicans who the Democrats bused into Vermont so they could vote for Hillary Clinton? She should be in jail, by the way. Lock her up! - 30 -


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