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Vermont Governor Attacked For Supporting Marijuana Decriminalization

by William Boardman, published

In a fundraising email sent out on Wednesday, Aug. 8, the Republican candidate for Governor of Vermont claimed that Governor [Peter] Shumlin is making marijuana decriminalization one of his top priorities, although Republican Randy Brock doesn't cite any source for that assertion.

Shumlin has long supported moving toward decriminalization of marijuana in Vermont, but there little evidence it’s one of his “top priorities,” which include providing Vermonters with universal health care, developing more affordable housing, and taking care of the growing numbers of homeless people.

Referring to a report in the Burlington Free Press, Brock’s email wrongly claims “that Governor Shumlin took the highly unusual step of personally calling the head of a marijuana legalization organization and volunteering to be their national spokesman … in exchange for a max-out contribution of $6,000, of course (8/6/12).”

What Terri Hallenbeck wrote, with some ambiguity, on her August 7 Free Press blog was:   “Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana group NORML, doesn’t get many calls like this. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin rang him up last week, he said, and told him he’d like to be a national spokesman for the marijuana reform movement.”

Nowhere does Hallenbeck suggest that Shumlin was to be a spokesman for NORML, as Brock asserts, nor does she confirm Brock’s claim of a quid pro quo between Shumlin and NORML.

The blog post was inspired by the NORML executive director’s own August 3 report on the NORML blog of a recent phone call with Shumlin.  NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was founded in 1970 “to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.”  In 2010, when Shumlin first ran for governor, NORML contributed $1,000 to his campaign.

What NORML’s St. Pierre wrote had nothing to do with Shumlin being a spokesman for NORML, but referred gratefully to Shumlin’s being a spokesman for the same cause.  This is pretty much what Shumlin has been doing for years.

When Brock voted as a state senator against a medical marijuana bill in 2010, he presumably knew his then fellow-senator Shumlin favored the bill.  And he’s presumably also aware that in April 2012, Governor Shumlin signed a medical marijuana bill into Vermont law.

Brock’s email is wrong, but it’s not clear whether he was misled by Hallenbeck’s ambiguous report, or whether his campaign did its due diligence and then just went ahead and lied.

NORML is an interest group no different in form from any interest group supporting Brock or any other candidate.  In response to Shumlin’s call expressing support for NORML’s interest, the executive director acted normally, explaining to his readers first how they could contribute to NORMALPAC or, as an alternative, how they could contribute to the Shumlin campaign directly.

According to Hallenbeck, Brock’s reaction on August 6 to news of the NORML-Shumlin connection was to say: “I’m astounded that we have a governor who is seeking money as a result of supporting decriminalization of a drug the possession of which is against federal law.”

She does not say why Senator Brock seems to think it’s wrong to follow the normal legislative process to seek reform in the case of marijuana.  She did say that, if he became governor, Brock promised to veto any legislation that decriminalized marijuana.

Shumlin has promised to seek legislation that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana, but he has not yet taken a stand on a specific amount.

In his NORML blog, St. Pierre concluded on a hopeful note from his perspective:  “cannabis law reformers have worked hard and long to arrive at these days where, according to most recent Gallup Polling, legalization is more popular than prohibition–let’s help finish this process sooner than later by helping to elect the political allies we need to replace the failed and expensive public policy of Cannabis Prohibition with logical alternatives.”

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