Breaking News:EVENT: "The Continuing Detention of Senator Leila de Lima," UN Human Rights Council, Geneva and Online

New Poll Could Bolster Vermont Drug Decrim Push [FEATURE]

A recent poll could help breathe new life into a Vermont campaign to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that died in the House earlier this year. The poll, from Data for Progress and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found a whopping 84 percent of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

The legislature didn't get a decrim bill done this year, but a new poll bodes well for the future. (Creative Commons)
Support for decriminalization included a majority of voters across all major demographic groups and party affiliations. The poll also found that 81 percent of voters support reframing the state's approach to drug use as a health issue with a focus on reducing the harms of addiction and offering health and recovery services.

"With Vermont having one of the highest increases in overdoses in the country last year, it's clear that the existing approach of criminalizing people who use drugs isn't working to keep people safe. In fact, it has only made things worse," said DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner. "This survey makes it abundantly clear that Vermont voters want a different approach - one focused on health rather than arrest and punishment."

Overdoses are not the only issue plaguing the state's enforcement of drug prohibition. Last November, the Council of State Governments (CSG) issued a report on Vermont prosecutions and court outcomes that found pronounced racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions. That report found that Black people are over 14 times more likely to be charged with drug felonies that White people. The report also found that Black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison for certain felony offenses -- including drug offenses -- while White defendants more often receive alternatives to imprisonment.

That CSG report was buttressed by years of statewide police data that consistently shows Black motorists being stopped, searched, and cited at higher rates even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than Whites.

"For anyone committed to advancing racial justice in their communities, these findings are critically important and should be acted on immediately," ACLU of Vermont (ACLU-VT) Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said at the time. "They show that extreme racial disparities in Vermont state prosecutions and sentencing decisions are real, and can't be attributed to racist tropes about 'out-of-state drug dealers' when they are, in fact, the result of systemic racism in state prosecutors' offices and courthouses. These findings also help to explain why, year after year, Vermont's prisons have some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

That report helped spur both the creation of broad coalition to push for drug decriminalization, @DecriminalizeVermont, which consists of the ACLU-VT, Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

"Reforming our criminal justice system requires a fundamental shift away from criminalizing behaviors that need not involve police, prosecutors, and incarceration," said the ACLU-VT. "While Vermont has decriminalized possession of marijuana, there is still progress to be made in finally treating substance use disorder as the public health issue that it is. Vermont needs to decriminalize other drug offenses and better account for substance abuse disorder in related offenses, such as trespassing, sex work, and writing bad checks."

The CSG report also prompted a push in the state legislature to get a decriminalization bill passed. That bill, H.644, was cosponsored by nearly one-third of the House, with 42 Democrats, Progressives, and Independents signing on. It was designed to set up a board of drug policy experts to determine threshold levels for personal use amounts, which would then be decriminalized, and to establish a drug treatment referral system to help people access treatment services.

"The whole question of arresting and prosecuting drug possession -- we're not seeing a lot of value. In fact, we're seeing a lot of harm historically," said bill cosponsor Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).

The bill was introduced on January 14 and got a series of House Judiciary Committee hearings in the next month at which several coalition members testified.

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

"Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice," said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. "We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session."

But that is as far as it went. After the hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Washington) never put the bill up for a committee vote. It died when the legislature adjourned in May.

But now, given that new polling data, there is more evidence than ever that Vermonters are ready for a change.

"What's clear from this poll is that Vermont voters want to prioritize preventing overdose and ending the harms of criminalization, and they want their elected officials to take leadership on this," said DPA's Gardner.

The push for decriminalization may have been thwarted this year, but it isn't going to go away. Look for another attempt next year, and those poll numbers can only help.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Safe supply of drugs vs. decriminalization

If you really wanted a health solution for drug use, you  would set up community based safe supply centers provding drugs of choice, certified as to purity, at below street prices. Doe we not realize that decriminalizing at the state level keeps in place the illegal suppliers who are reckless with fentanyl and corrupt in how they step on the drugs they sell.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <i> <blockquote> <p> <address> <pre> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <h6> <br> <b>

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School