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The Politics of Pot 

Published May 8, 2002 at 4:00 a.m. | Updated October 5, 2017 at 10:03 p.m.

Medical marijuana has clearly been the surprise issue of the 2002 Vermont legislative session. Who would have thought the Republican House that is so conservative on sex and “morality” would be so liberal on grass?

As you know, the House adopted a medical marijuana bill that would allow sick and suffering Vermonters legal relief for their pain. They could get a doctor’s okay and avoid prosecution by the state of Vermont.

Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman, the lead sponsor, deserves a gold star for his leadership on this one. The Intervale vegetable farmer’s intelligent, respectful approach won the day. Farmer Dave built an impressive coalition comprising folks who disagree on almost everything else.

But Gov. Howard Dean remains the roadblock. The best hope for this year is a proposed Senate compromise that would merely allow folks charged with pot possession the right to use the “affirmative defense” that the grass was being smoked for medical reasons.

The Senate proposal was immediately trashed by House leaders like Judiciary Chair Peg Flory (R-Pittsford). Princess Peg said she’d prefer “nothing” to adopting the Senate’s suggestion.

Dr. Dean, flaunting his “scientist” credentials, says nothing short of an FDA study will change his mind on marijuana. After all, with the road to the White House in his windshield, our favorite presidential hopeful does not want to be labeled a softie on drugs.

But Ho-Ho won’t be around next year. And the current frontrunner, Democratic Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, told Seven Days he supports “the concept of medical marijuana for those folks suffering painful and terminal diseases.”

Most people do. But not the Republican candidate for governor, Jim Douglas.

Slim Jim’s campaign manager, Neale Lunderville, told Seven Days Mr. Douglas supports Howard Dean’s position on medical pot. In fact, he has seized on the drug issue as one to make hay over.

Mr. Douglas has unleashed a statewide radio blitz that sounds like something out of the “Just Say No” days of the Ronald Reagan presidency.

He wants “parents notified when a convicted drug dealer moves into their neighborhood. These predators should not be allowed to lurk anonymously while they target your children for destruction. And if a dealer sells drugs to a minor who dies as a result, they should go to jail for the rest of their life.”

Talk about a “Back to the Future” drug policy!

Hey, Jim, where ya been? It’s been tried. The prisons are full and the availability of illegal drugs hasn’t diminished.

Last week, a Canadian senate committee recommended that Canada decriminalize marijuana. The committee found pot is not a gateway to harder drugs and suggested it be treated like alcohol and tobacco.

Also last week, the council of northern Italy’s region of Lombardy adopted a motion calling for the medicinal use of cannabis.

And in the United Kingdom last week, former Cabinet Secretary Mo Mowlan called for the legalization of all drugs. Time to face reality, argued Mowlan. She said current policies simply show no signs of ever working. Mowlan’s idea is to remove illegal drugs from the grip of the black market, tax them and use the revenue for drug treatment programs.

As was the case with the Vietnam War, maybe it’s high time in the War on Drugs to declare victory and leave?

Dean On Schedule — In the wake of his defeat in Washington County Superior Court, Gov. Howard Dean finally spoke out on the court battle over the release of his daily schedule. Dean has appealed the decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Ho-Ho called it “a classic fight between the government and the papers. The papers want to know everything. The government finds there are some things they shouldn’t know.”

One example of what the press should not know, he said, was the “behind-closed-doors meetings” he had a few years ago with Robert Schad, the Canadian who brought the big Husky plant to Milton, Vermont.

“Had those meetings been public,” said the Guv, “and it’d been known that Robert Schad and I were meeting, Husky wouldn’t be here today.”


“People need to have the ability to come to the governor and have private discussions with the governor,” he continued. “I don’t think that is in the public interest to know. In fact I think it’s in the public interest that the public not know.”

Can’t wait until he runs the whole country, eh?

Happy Anniversary — How time flies! The first anniversary of U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords 15 minutes of fame is fast approaching. A lot of water under the bridge since May 24, 2001.

That was the memorable day Burlington’s Radisson Hotel was transformed into a media ground zero as Jeezum Jim delivered the best speech of his life to a worldwide audience.

Jeezum Jim’s departure from the Republican Party turned the keys of the U.S. Senate over to the Democrats, and Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota replaced Trent Lott of Mississippi as the majority leader.

“I feel better than I felt when I did it,” Jeffords told Seven Days this week. “You had no idea of the ramifications that would occur. I just knew I had to do it because I just could not stand what I saw happening. Now that I look back on it, it was just a great idea.”

Jeezum Jim’s courageous act checked the sharp right turn taken by rookie President George W. Bush. It reintroduced balance to Capitol Hill, where the GOP was calling all the shots. It was a feeding frenzy for Corporate America. Anybody remember Enron?

Jeffords said he’s proudest of promoting improvement of our education system.

The Bush administration, he said, “just does not perceive that. It’s more interested in getting more kids into private schools than making the public schools better performers. Having an opportunity to focus attention on that has made it all worthwhile.”

As we look ahead, the only Independent in the U.S. Senate isn’t up for reelection until 2006. Jim will be 72 years old. Most folks assume he won’t run again. Not so fast.

“I’m always thinking far ahead. That’s how I got where I am,” Jeffords told yours truly. “Right now I feel extremely positive about my ability to help Vermont. If that [feeling] still exists at the time, I will run again… for the last time.”

Derby Update — “I had a good holiday,” said Harlan Sylvester this week, referring to his weekend in Kentucky. Harlan and a delegation of six Vermonters, including former Gov. Tom Salmon, made their annual pilgrimage to Churchill Downs for the 128th running of the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, they weren’t cashing any tickets at the betting windows since their horse, Harlan’s Holiday, finished far behind the wire-to-wire winner, War Emblem.

“The pace was so slow,” said Mr. Sylvester, “I knew the closers were dead.”

The fact that Harlan and the boys couldn’t pick the winner (or even second or third) tells us something about this thing called “the sport of kings.”

Each summer, yours truly makes the pilgrimage to Saratoga to “take the waters” and play the ponies. It is at times humbling, at other times exhilarating. If there’s a science, yours truly and the “experts” have yet to discover it. You can be walking around lucky some days and not even know it.

Take Burlington’s most famous grill cook — Jon Lines of the landmark Oasis Diner on Bank Street. Boy, did he have a smile on his face Sunday morning.

“Everybody said it was a wide-open race,” said Lines. So he placed his bet based on two-legged, rather than four-legged, animals.

Mr. Lines slapped his bet on a 5-13 exacta. An “exacta” is the first two horses across the line, in order. He said he picked War Emblem and Proud Citizen, not for their pedigrees or past performances, but for their trainers: Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas.

The $2 exacta paid $1300. Jon wagered a sweet 10-spot. Mr. Lines enjoyed a lovely drive to Plattsburgh’s OTB office Sunday afternoon to collect.


Speaking of Salmon — And we don’t mean the fish. Tom Salmon has worn a lot of big hats in his Vermont sojourn: governor, president of the University of Vermont and chairman of the board of Green Mountain Power, the state’s second-largest electric power company.

After 25 years on the GMP board, the last 20 as chairman, Salmon told Seven Days this week he’s stepping down.

At Thursday’s upcoming annual meeting at the Sheraton in South Burlington, we anticipate a colorful, quotable and educational “Last Hurrah” speech to shareholders from one of Vermont’s legendary warriors.

Dancing with Bernie? — It’s the race that few, if any, savvy Vermont politicos have time for — Congressman Bernie Sanders’ bid for reelection to a seventh term as Vermont’s watchdog in Washington.

Since his election to Congress in 1990, Ol’ Bernardo has clearly ripened with age.

In the early years, the Republican Party sent its best horses against him, but Sanders beat them all, including former GOP rising stars like John Carroll (1994) and Susan Sweetser (1996).

Bernie knocked them both out of the Vermont political arena.

After Sweetser, the GOP essentially gave up. Unofficially, they’ve conceded the seat to Bernie for as long as he wants it.

In the last election, Bernie scored his biggest landslide to date, a 69.2 percent –18.3 percent trouncing of Republican oddball Karen Kerin, a smoky-voiced Royalton rabble-rouser.

This time, two Rutland dreamers, Bill Meub and Gregory Parke, have stepped forward to challenge Ms. Kerin in the Republican primary. All that does is prove P.T. Barnum was right — there’s a sucker born every minute.

Despite his assured reelection, there is still a Sanders Campaign. The man takes nothing for granted. Friday the incumbent will host an event at Burlington’s Radisson Hotel from 7 to 10 p.m.

Campaign Manager Peter Sterling tells us it’s called “Dancing and Dialogue with Congressman Bernie Sanders.”

Admission is free. Donations accepted. There’ll be tunes from DJ Joel Najman, unnamed “special” guests and a cash bar.

Having had the unique privilege of covering Ol’ Bernardo for 20 years, yours truly knows full well that he’ll have no problemo with the “dialogue” portion of the evening’s festivities. But Bernie Sanders dancing?

“He’ll do both,” Sterling assured us.

Now that’s worth seeing.

Progs Plug Skin Cream? — Hey, there’s a little capitalism in everyone — even Progressives. Besides, we all want to look younger, right?

Still, it’s quite the shockeroo to find corporate advertising on the recent batch of Progressive Legislative Updates shipped out over the Internet by the Vermont Progressive Party.

Each Friday afternoon one of the four Prog lawmakers pumps out a weekly update on the goings-on under the golden dome. The latest one also contained a pitch for the “Secret to Younger-Looking Skin in Weeks!”

It’s the perfect pitch for a political party top-heavy with aging baby boomers, eh?

A click on the link leads Progressive Party members to Victoria Principal’s “Secret Advanced Skin Care System” that “helps reverse visible signs of aging and revitalizes your skin to a youthful glow.”


Progressive Party state chair Martha Abbott of Underhill was unaware of the advertising plugs the Progressive Party was pumping out with its political dispatches. The former Burlington city councilor quickly checked into the matter and promptly got back to us.

“Apparently,” said Ms. Abbott, “it’s a function of the list-serve we use. We’re looking into it. We’re not sure what we think of it… We’re not all that excited about.”

Hate to rub it in.

Media NotesBurlington Free Press environmental reporter and nature columnist Nancy Bazilchuk is heading to Norway. She tells Seven Days her husband has landed a job teaching plant physiology at a leading university there.

“We thought it would be fun to live in another country for awhile,” said Nancy. They’ll be gone two or three years, she said.

The Birkenstocks, er, Bazilchuks, are moving to the town of Trondheim, located on a deep fjord just below the Arctic Circle.

“We have to load all our worldly goods into a 20-foot shipping container,” said Nancy. “It’s remarkable how much stuff you accumulate when you’ve got kids. Can you say tag sale?”

Bon voyage!

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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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