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Pot, Politics and the Hipster Quotient

 

(UPDATE: This was written before the Vermont primary election results were available. Sue Minter subsequently creamed Matt Dunne in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.)

Notes from a dry sunny summer. Pot first, then politics…

I’ve met my hipster quotient this summer by visiting the Portlands of Oregon and Maine. While Portland, Maine, has what must be the world’s business Whole Foods and a high ratio of tattoos to humans, the tattoo-per-human ratio is even higher in Portland, Ore.

And of course the Left Coast version has something that Portland, Maine, can only dream about for now: legal marijuana.

While Colorado and Washington got most of the attention for legalizing cannabis, Oregon has quietly gone about creating a legal pot culture, too.

Feeling that I had to visit a cannabis dispensary while I was out there (strictly in the name of journalistic research, of course), I asked the hotel desk clerks a question that I’d only previously verbalized in Amsterdam: “Where’s the nearest cannabis dispensary?”

Botanica, three blocks north of my hotel, had the look of a nonprofit from the outside. A green cross was the only sign of the highs that lay within. Even the reception area was more like a dentist’s office than a Palace of Pleasures.

Behind the inner doors, however, lay the goods.

After loading up at the dispensary’s ATM machine – it’s still a cash-money business, no credit cards allowed – my friend Rich and I sampled our first legal marijuana in many years of “experimenting” with the drug. (For the record, most of my experimentation took place decades ago.)

I opted for Gorilla Glue #4, said to be a nice mix between indica (mellow cannabis) and sativa, which is inevitably described as “encouraging creativity.” In reality, the indica will put you “in the couch,” and sativa offers various kinds of being wired.

Rich and I also bought the one-a-day edible the state allows, opting for lollipops instead of gummy bears. And

Despite the clear labelling on the cannabis edibles, I can see why even some proponents of legalization don’t want to legalize them: They’re too easily confused with plain old candies, and we don’t want kids ingesting them

It remains to be seen whether Vermont will be the first Eastern state to legalize marijuana. The State Senate passed a legalization bill this year, but the idea died in the supposedly more liberal House. And if Phil Scott, a Republican, is our next governor, legalization would appear to be dead for the time being.

But what is clear today is that widely legal marijuana is not just a pipe dream, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Prohibition has been a huge and expensive failure. Pot is much safer than alcohol. It’s widely used and offers usually harmless fun. We saw the tide turn quickly on gay marriage, and I’m predicting we’ll see a similar turn on marijuana.

Like it or not, marijuana is moving into the mainstream.

***

My Oregon trip was punctuated by the derailment of a train carrying oil along the Columbia River. The crash led to a huge fire and a near-disaster of oil spilling into the river.

This is not just a faraway problem. Oil trains ply the western shore of New York State within view of Addison County. If one of those many trains should derail, we would be looking at a lake befouled by toxic oil.

***

I’ve had to file this column on Election Day itself, so I’m writing without knowledge of who won the primaries. But even without that information, a few things about this election season stand out.

As the always excellent Seven Days writer Paul Heintz reported this week, the gubernatorial races will set a record for spending.

Heintz calculates that Republican hopeful Bruce Lisman spent at least $1.6 million of his own wealth in a long-odds effort to defeat Lt. Gov. Phil Scott for the Republican nod.

Democrat Peter Galbraith also brought considerable personal wealth to his campaign. (Thought he dialed back his spending after seeming to conclude the real contest was between Sue Minter and Matt Dunne.) Both Minter and Dunne appeared poised this week to see more than $1 million spent in support of each of their campaigns.

A lot of that was outside “Super PAC” money. It’s has been seeping into Vermont’s normally low-key campaigns ever since the benighted U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Citizens United, that unbridled campaign cash could not possibly corrupt the electoral process. (Yeah, right.)

* * *

Two other items to note:

This campaign season saw an unusual number of endorsements from a U.S. senator supporting candidates in local House races. Sen. Bernie Sanders flexed some of his political muscle locally, by endorsing House Democratic candidates Mari Cordes and Jean Charbonneau. Both Cordes and Charbonneau are longtime labor activists.

The big surprise of the gubernatorial campaign, though, was the nearly last-minute reversal by Ripton’s Bill McKibben, the internationally known climate change leader and co-founder of 350.org.

After years of supporting Dunne for governor – including six years ago when Dunne first ran – McKibben did a 180. He announced last week that he had changed his mind and would support Sue Minter instead.

McKibben was disillusioned by Dunne’s declaration that as governor, he would back the rights of individual town to exercise veto power over wind energy projects within their borders.

A lot of Vermont environmentalists took note of McKibben’s shift. I heard from several people that as a result, they were going to vote for Minter.

If Dunne turns out to have lost the primary by a close margin, his relatively late and loud pronouncement in favor of town vetoes will go down as something of a blunder.

But there are pitfalls awaiting Minter if she is the Democratic nominee.

She has been outspoken in her support for gun safety laws. That’s a good cause.

But it’s also potentially political suicide in Vermont.

Just ask Bernie Sanders and Gov. Peter Shumlin. They’ve spent their careers avoiding support for most meaningful gun safety measures. So if Minter is the nominee, her avowed support for gun safety will be a minefield for her between now and November.

-30 –

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