The Last Taboo | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Last Taboo 

Published February 27, 2002 at 4:00 a.m. | Updated November 7, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

One of the most ignored countries on Earth just enjoyed a historic Winter Olympics. It’s a country near and dear to Vermont, but also a world away. Like comedian Rodney Dangerfield would put it, “Canada can’t get no respect.”

And even though the United States of America was its victim on the Salt Lake ice, we must applaud the gold medals in men’s and women’s ice hockey won by our neighbor to the north.

Congratulations, Canada! We’ll get you in four years.


But, truth be told, Canada, the country that puts the north in North America, has a leg up on the U.S. in more areas than puck control.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the land of the loonie has a significantly lower infant mortality rate than the land of the almighty dollar (6.76 deaths per 1000 live births in the U.S. — 5.02 in Canada.)

And being born in Canada not only means longer winters, it also means a longer life.

Life expectancy north of the border is currently 79.56 years. In the good ol’ USA, life expectancy is 77.26 years.

They must be doing something right, eh?

Take the way Canadians handle one of the oldest medicines known to man — marijuana. In August 2000, Ontario’s court of appeal ruled than banning marijuana for medicinal purposes violates the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Last July 30, Canada quietly amended its “Narcotic Control Regulations” by establishing “Marijuana Medical Access Regulations.” According to Health Canada, the federal health agency, the new regulations set up “a compassionate framework” to allow the use of marijuana by people who are “suffering from serious illness,” and where the use of cannabis “is expected to have some medical benefit that outweighs the risk and use.”

In the land of Olympic hockey gold, the government grows grass for those who cannot grow their own. What a country!

The new law went into effect last summer, and like civil unions in Vermont, nothing really changed. No one noticed. A search of Canadian news sources turns up little in the way of controversy. And the recent Olympics indicates there’s no evidence that the 32 million inhabitants of Canada have turned into crazed, stoned-out drug addicts.

South of the border, it’s a drastically different story. American culture is obsessed with drugs in all forms. Prescription drugs, illegal drugs, dangerous drugs, drug dependence, drug commercials and full-page advertisements, drug courts and counselors and overall drug hysteria.

These days U.S. politicians of every stripe are furiously piling on the pharmaceutical industry, claiming prescription drugs are too expensive. But few are willing to take on the entrenched reefer madness that does harm to so many.

“Do I think the War on Drugs is terrific?” replied Gov. Howard Dean M.D., when asked the other day about the medical marijuana bill currently before the House Judiciary Committee.


“Do I think drugs are a public health problem?


“Do I favor legalizing marijuana?


Why not?

“Because I think it will make the public health problem much worse,” he replied.

How so?

“Because many, many more people will use marijuana, and some percent of those will require a substantial amount of treatment, the same as alcohol.”

Really? But what about marijuana prescribed by a physician?

“My position,” said Dr. Dean, “is if the pill form were approved by the FDA, I would have no problem.”

But what about cancer patients and others whose nausea prevents them from keeping pills down?

“Well, there are suppositories, then,” he answered with a wide grin. “Just speaking as a physician.”

Cute. Picture the headline: “Dean to pot smokers: Shove it up your ass!”

But doctors do disagree on this one. Joseph McSherry M.D., a Burlington neurologist, told Seven Days, “There’s no scientific or medical question that marijuana is a medicine. Marijuana has been a medicine for thousands of years.”

In 1937, however, it became illegal in the U.S., despite the objection of the American Medical Association, said McSherry.

Neurologists treat patients afflicted with diseases of the brain, spinal chord and nervous system such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. McSherry was at the Statehouse Friday to testify on the medical marijuana bill sponsored by Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington). There are 40 co-sponsors.

“As the governor pointed out,” said McSherry, “things go through the FDA now. But aspirin didn’t go through the FDA. Aspirin is a willow bark extract and never would have been approved because it’s so highly toxic. But it’s something we all use.”

Marijuana “is a real medicine,” he added, “and from a scientific point of view, it’s a medicine that affects these diseases. It’s the best medicine in terms of side-effects and the potential for addiction being less.”

Doc McSherry knows, because he’s seen its effect on patients in pain. And, he said, recent studies have indicated marijuana’s benefit to the immune system. When used in the mouse models of multiple sclerosis, he said, marijuana prevents the disease’s damage.

Also on hand to testify was Deb Ramsdell, 62, a Charlotte selectboard member. Ramsdell lost her husband to cancer. He wasn’t even a smoker.

Ramsdell had read in the press that marijuana could be helpful for the nausea that accompanies cancer chemotherapy.

“So finally in the last two months of his life,” she told Seven Days, “I got him to use it. He asked for it every day. It was the main thing that kept him going. It relieved his nausea. It gave him a sense of well being. It just made life more pleasant for him. And he was going to die anyway.”

Reality — what a concept!

“It’s silliness to the point of cruelty,” said Ramsdell, “to make a criminal out of a desperate cancer patient.”

Rep. Zuckerman told Seven Days it appears unlikely the Judiciary Committee will send the medical marijuana bill to the floor. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of it this year. There will still be the opportunity to put the issue before the entire House as a floor amendment.

Boy, Canadians must think we live in a strange, strange country.

Armory Update — There’s been some movement on the part of Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville of the Vermont National Guard in the wake of last week’s barrage of bad press. She was slammed for her decision to keep after-school kids’ programs out of the Guard’s mostly idle armories in Burlington and Vergennes.

Last Thursday the general met with three Burlington lawmakers who had written her, asking that the New North End Youth Center (NNEYC) be allowed back into the Gosse Court armory.

“It seems a shame to deny children access to a successful program and leave the armory facility underutilized,” they wrote.

Citing security concerns in the post-September 11 world, Rainville responded like a general at war.

“It would be irresponsible,” she wrote on February 8, “to allow groups of civilians” back in.

But the pressure mounted. Gen. Rainville heard from the governor and the mayor, too. And, as we reported last Wednesday, Rainville’s parade was subsequently rained on by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Last Thursday the general finally met with the three Burlington reps.

“She said she was relenting,” said Rep. Bill Aswad. She’s willing, he said, “to let the kids back in to use the drill floor, but not the office space.”

“My hope is we’re moving beyond the security issue,” said Rep. Mark Larson.

“The bottom line,” said Rep. John Tracy, is keeping the kids out was “probably not the best decision to make.”

Gen. Rainville told Seven Days she will meet with all the interested parties on March 6. She said “the focus needs to be on the kids.” Getting them back in the state-owned building “could happen realistically within a couple weeks.”

Rainville noted the military remains at Threatcom Bravo. That means a guard member will have to be on duty when the children are present, she said.

Damn little terrorists, eh?

But regardless of security, the general made it clear the guard intends to permanently take over the office and classroom space at the Burlington facility. That will pose a problem.

Kathy Olwell, director of the NNEYC program, told Seven Days the loss of the office and classroom space will deprive the kids of access to the computers as well as “a place to sit down.”

“We can’t run the program that way,” said Olwell. “As far as I’m concerned,” she cautioned, “this is not letting the program continue.”

Our sources say this battle is far from over.

Osama’s aftershocks continue.

Not a Pollina Poll? — Vermont’s fledgling left-wing third party stumbled a wee bit last week trying to spin poll numbers just like the big boys. The Progressive Party hired Action Research, a Burlington marketing outfit, to conduct a statewide poll earlier this month testing the strength of the Progs’ two best-known horses: Anthony Pollina and Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle.

The Progs spun the results to show that either Tony the Prog (29 percent) or Mayor Moonie (27 percent) could beat Democrat Pistol Pete Shumlin (25 percent) in the upcoming race for lieutenant governor. Of course, the margin of error was plus/minus 5 percent.

The Prog Poll also showed Pollina getting 19 percent of the vote in another run for governor — double what he got in 2000. That’s when he used the campaign financing law, which he helped write, to tap $265,000 in public financing. Free money.

As word of the Prog poll buzzed through the Statehouse a couple weeks back, the Progressives were unusually mum. Then, last week, when they were sending out press releases bragging about it, “New Poll Shows Progressive Party Increasing Influence,” the press showed little interest. Finally, after a couple days, the Associated Press paid attention.

AP Statehouse writer Ross Sneyd noticed a potential problem. Under the rules, a candidate cannot spend more than $500 before February 15 and qualify for a spot at the public financing trough.

Tony the Prog played dumb. He even said he had been against doing a poll when the matter was first discussed by Prog Party insiders, and had no idea what the questions were. Mr. Pollina explained the purpose of the Prog poll was “party-building,” and not designed to benefit his next bid for statewide office. The poll was conducted, he said, to measure “how the party’s message was resonating.”

Unfortunately, the questions asked of 456 registered voters between January 31 and February 8 were not about “message” at all. The questions were all about how Anthony and da’ mayor of Burlap would fare in several different election scenarios this year. Stuff like: “Would you say your support for Anthony Pollina is very strong, somewhat strong, neither strong or weak, somewhat weak, or very weak.”

One thing is clear: Support for Mr. Pollina’s spin is very weak — even over at the Vatican of campaign finance reform, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG).

VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns told Seven Days he “doesn’t know about the legal question,” but he does know it would have been “wise to avoid doing a poll” right before the February 15 time line. The Progressive Party, he added, could also have avoided problems “by not sharing the poll results with any potential candidates.”

They could have sat on it. Instead, they issued press releases in an attempt to tell the whole world about it. Mr. Burns said he “can’t profess to call the poll a violation,” but questions about whether it is or not “could have been avoided.”

Timing, they say, is everything. The Prog poll hits the street just as Mr. Pollina is rethinking his plans for the fall election in the wake of King Con Hogan’s Independent entry. The numbers indicate Pollina’s best shot at Victory Lane is in the Lite-Gov race. Surely that’s valuable information for Candidate Pollina to digest. And it’s worth a hell of a lot more than $500.

Richard McCoy, the president of Action Research, told Seven Days, “It’s our job to collect accurate and objective data. It’s the client’s responsibility to use it in accordance with ethics and the law.”

Last Word — The cranky crows have all gone quiet. City Market has finally opened. What a gem of a grocery store. Best of both worlds. I love the Paul Newman chocolate chip cookies. Thank you, Onion River Coop.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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