Lt. Governor lights up about cannabis

By Lena O’Donnell

Visual Editor

You might know that the consumption of recreational cannabis has been legalized in Vermont, but you might not know that there are still plenty of rules surrounding it, especially on campus. The Defender interviewed Lieutenant Governor of Vermont David Zuckerman, whom you might see at the farmer’s market in Burlington on Saturdays selling produce from his farm, to get the lowdown.

Is weed legal in Vermont?

“It certainly is legal to possess it and consume it if you are 21 or older,” said Zuckerman in a phone interview. Governor Phil Scott signed the bill to legalize recreational use of cannabis in 2018. It says,

  • You must be at least 21 years old to consume cannabis.
  • You must grow your own plants (no one can legally sell recreational cannabis to you yet in Vermont).
  • There are other rules about the amount of marijuana you can have outside of your home (one ounce) and how many plants you can grow (no more than two mature plants or four immature plants).

“When I first ran for the legislature as a UVM student in 1994 I was partly campaigning on a platform to reform our cannabis laws, in large part because of that propagandic racist history as well as the current war on drugs’ racial and social implications and ultimately to try to make a cleaner, less adulterated product available to people who were consuming it anyway,” Zuckerman said.

But it’s illegal on campus, right?

“I wouldn’t say that it is “illegal” on college campuses because colleges and campuses don’t write laws,” Zuckerman explained. “ It may be against their rules, but that’s different than technically having it be illegal.”

But Zuckerman does warn that there is a reason the legal age is 21.” When one consumes, whether it be cannabis or alcohol or other mind-altering substances, there is a physiological effect happening. It’s been quite well shown that particularly in the teenage years the receptors to these various products become more prone to addiction later in life. I don’t think anybody thinks that’s a good idea.”

Do you consume cannabis now, as an adult?

“I certainly did consume quite a bit in my college years. I’m willing to be honest and say that. And through my 20s I used a fair amount. But I actually use it extraordinarily rarely now much to the stereotype of who I am’s chagrin. Because frankly between running a decent-sized and complicated farm and having a spouse with Lyme disease and having a young daughter and also serving in public office, there’s really not a window of time in the day for me to be in a state of mind that is not as fully functional as I like to be.

So, very rarely do I consume it these days, even though it’s legal. I just don’t have time.”

So why did you push so hard for legalization?

“At this point it could have been, and still could be an economic development tool in our rural areas much the way our microbrew industry is a tourist draw/jaw and economic tool.”

What would you say to other states that follow Vermont’s example in legalizing cannabis?

“Let’s develop this industry in a way that promotes smaller scale development, that really helps our rural economy and not have it be concentrated in the hands of a few corporate monoliths,” Zuckerman said.

“The second piece would be to remember that a lower taxation rate is likely to help cut out the underground economy. Third, in order to reduce youth access and consumption, legalization is a step forward because when you start to reduce the economic incentive to break the law by drug dealers then they will have fewer customers and be around less to offer to youth who would be otherwise unable to get it.”

What happens if you get caught with cannabis on campus?

“If you ask students on campus whether they know the federal law versus state law in terms of cannabis use most would have little to no idea,” said Hunter Johnson ’22, a resident assistant at St. Michael’s College. “Because we go to a private school we are federally funded, meaning we go by their laws not the state’s.” Recreational cannabis is still illegal under federal regulations.

“By federal law cannabis is still a schedule one drug,” said Doub Babcock, director of Public Safety at St. Michael’s. As Doug put it, “It is right up there with street-level heroin.” In more than 28 years in responding to public safety calls, Babcock said, he has not responded to one incident where there was a person in danger because they were using cannabis. But he warns that there is still a danger when it comes to driving under the influence of cannabis, Babcock said if he could categorize it he would lower it from a schedule one drug to the same level as alcohol where it can be legal, if consumed appropriately. As Doug put it to the feds, “It is right up there with street-level heroin.”

If you are suspected of consuming cannabis public safety or a resident assistant will ask to search your room. “When the officer comes up to your room you do have the right to refuse,” Babcock said, “The officer has the right then to go through the chain of command up through the Dean of Students or Vice
President of Student Affairs and make their argument [to] authorize the search.” This whole process
takes place immediately after the refusal. If cannabis is found in your possession, it along with any other
devices that can be used with it will be taken away.

Depending on the situation there are still some general repercussions if found on campus. Regardless of the situation you will be required to go to a meeting with Jeff Vincent who handles disciplinary action on campus. Doug commented, “If you have a personal use amount then that is really just a conversation.” One big thing that Doug emphasized was if the student(s) cooperate in a situation then the consequences would not be as big. This stems from his goal for students, “People [students] understand that here especially in this learning environment we [PublicSafety] become part of the infrastructure that you do not want to orbit too far from, what we want to be is a strong gravitational force to pull them back away from going completely off into the universe in the wrong direction.”