Opponents fear unintended consequences of legal pot market

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Some lawmakers are saying not so fast to buying and selling marijuana legally in Vermont. They say the law should stay where it is.

Opponents of commercialization are painting a grim picture of the consequences. They say the bill will lead to increased rates of addiction and will open the door for big tobacco to set up shop in Vermont. Wednesday, they tried to convince lawmakers it's a bad idea.

"Major, major addiction; for-profit drug players are getting into this industry," said Luke Niforatos, the chief of staff and policy advisor for Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia lobbying firm, pitched unintended consequences of taxing and regulating marijuana. They say THC potency continues to skyrocket and that many edibles are marketed toward kids. They're concerned legalizing a market for marijuana could open the door for big tobacco to advertise and target young people in the state.

"We don't need access to more drugs. What we need are safe and sober drivers and policies that support healthy kids and healthy communities over commercial interests," said Mariah Sanderson of Essex Junction.

A new poll from Emerson College shows only one-third of Vermonters support a commercialized market. The study says 37% support the current law, 18% approve of medical use and 15% want it illegal altogether.

"I urge you, you've done a wonderful job. This is far enough, we don't need to go any further," said Ed Baker of the Addiction Recovery Channel.

But marijuana advocates say the method of the poll isn't fair and its wording is confusing. They also say a regulated market is better than a black market for cannabis.

"There's an unregulated market and we think that's of greater concern than whether or not these sorts of polls coming out are saying one way or another," said Geoffrey Pizzutillo, the executive director of the Vermont Growers Association.

The governor and law enforcement say roadway safety is still a concern. Despite that, some point to the allure of new tax revenue.

"I think if it's done in a legal matter where it's going to be done with dispensers and stuff legally, I think it would be an OK thing to do," said Janice Hood of Montpelier.

"They should continue to figure out how to do a roadside test and make sure kids don't get it. But if it's already there, make some money from it and move forward," said Grayson Schober of Montpelier.

The bill for a marijuana market continues to move through the Legislature. After passing key committees last week, we could see a potential vote on the House floor in the coming weeks.