Barre, Vermont, Mayor Thomas Lauzon's frustration with drugs and drug policy is showing, and it's making him just a touch schizophrenic. In remarks reported in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus Saturday, Lauzon called for the death penalty for crack and heroin dealers, and in the same breath, called for the legalization of marijuana.
He said he plans to ask the state legislature to adopt the death penalty and to legalize marijuana. Failing that, he said, he hopes to open to a statewide discussion about the state's drug problem, probably beginning with an April forum in Barre.
Barre (pronounced "berry") is an old-time boomtown that in days gone by was known as "The Chicago of New England." Today Barre is famed as an exporter of fine, granite, graveside monuments, a distinction that earned it a "ZipUSA" feature in the October 2003 issue of National Geographic.
"People who are dealing crack and dealing heroin have zero social value and should be put to death," Lauzon said. "I'm sure everyone will distance themselves from me," Lauzon said Saturday of his death-penalty call. "But if anyone tells you we're winning the war on drugs, they're lying."
Saturday evening he reiterated that stance in another interview with the Times Argus. "What social value do they have? They are dealing crack and heroin to young people, knowing full well what the effects will be," the mayor said. "What purpose do they serve in society other than to destroy lives, to destroy families?"
Vermont politicians reacted cautiously. State Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he understood Lauzon's frustration, but didn't embrace either the death penalty for dealing hard drugs or legalizing marijuana. "I think the man is very frustrated, and I understand his frustration," Sears said. "The problem in my view is we've ignored this problem until it's out of hand."
Jason Gibbs, a spokesman for Gov. James Douglas, told the newspaper that while the governor was not unalterably opposed to the death penalty, he was opposed to legalizing marijuana. "He's not unalterably opposed to the death penalty, but he doesn't have any plans to introduce it. There are some circumstances he would support a death penalty, but I'm not sure this is among them," Gibbs said. "Marijuana is a gateway drug for some folks, so he would not support legalization."
Lauzon said he had discussed his proposals with some legislators, but hadn't gotten very far. "They listen politely. I would like to have a statewide conversation. The conversation I'd like to start with is 'How are we doing?' Are we happy with our progress in the war on drugs? What are we doing in Vermont with regard to the war on drugs?" Lauzon said. "Maybe we start in Barre."
While Lauzon's proposal for the death penalty for drug dealers is a first in recent Vermont history, his call for legalizing marijuana echoes one made last December by Windsor County States Attorney Robert Sand, who called for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of other drugs. And so goes the drug debate in Vermont.