MONTPELIER — Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock criticized the Democratic incumbent Tuesday for soliciting campaign donations from an organization that advocates for the legalization of marijuana.
With Gov. Peter Shumlin on vacation in Canada this week, Brock chided him for his association with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In light of Vermont’s highest-in-the-nation usage rates among teenagers, Brock said, “I think it sends a terrible message to the public and to the youth of Vermont.”
“We clearly have a serious drug problem in Vermont, and for our governor to be actively soliciting money from an organization that isn’t just interested in decriminalizing marijuana but legalizing it is outrageous,” he said.
Alex MacLean, who will soon depart her Cabinet-level post in the Shumlin administration to manage her boss’s re-election campaign, said the first-term governor’s long-standing support for decriminalization is part of a common-sense drug policy.
“The vast majority of Vermonters agree with Gov. Shumlin that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana makes common sense, saves money and allows for law enforcement to focus on the real drug problems in our communities,” MacLean said Tuesday.
MacLean said Shumlin does not share NORML’s stance on legalization but that he does want to see criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis replaced with civil fines.
According to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, Shumlin phoned the organization’s Washington, D.C., offices last week to make a fundraising appeal.
“The governor called up and said, ‘I’m doing some fundraising for my campaign, and I’ve been advised that NORML has a political action committee,’” St. Pierre said Tuesday.
He said Shumlin explained that in Vermont, PACs are permitted to donate up to $6,000 to candidates.
“He said if you donate the maximum, that’s appreciated, but whatever amount would be appreciated,” St. Pierre said. “He said he wasn’t able to get decriminalization passed in his first term but if re-elected would hope to make that a major cause.”
The board that oversees NORML’s politicalaction committee has since approved a $2,000 contribution to Shumlin, money that should arrive here before the next reporting deadline Aug. 15, St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre said NORML ultimately wants to see the country adopt a tax-and-regulate model akin to the systems used for alcohol and tobacco. Until then, he said, the organization is happy to support candidates willing to push for all manner of marijuana reform.
“Gov. Shumlin talked about how he wanted to become spokesperson for reforming laws to a much greater degree than they have been,” St. Pierre said. Shumlin has never been shy about his stance on marijuana reform. In 2010, he was one of only two Democratic candidates in 37 gubernatorial races nationwide to openly support decriminalization.
It also isn’t the first time he’s accepted campaign donations from a marijuanareform organization. PACs run by the Marijuana Policy Project contributed $14,000 to Shumlin’s 2010 bid for governor and have donated $4,500 to his re-election campaign this year.
Publicopinion polls routinely show overwhelming support among the Vermont electorate for marijuana decriminalization. One poll commissioned by MPP in February found 63 percent of Vermonters favor decriminalization.
Brock said that doesn’t mean it’s right for a governor to push for reforms that would run afoul of federal statute.
“Governors should not be leading by polls,” Brock said. “Governors should be setting a moral example.”
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said Brock’s stance may fire up the base.
“But in terms of the general public, I don’t think it’s an issue that’s going to give him much traction,” Davis said. “I think there’s a sense among a lot of Vermonters that devoting police and judicial resources to small possession cases of marijuana just isn’t a good use of resources. Randy Brock will get some publicity for this but probably not very many votes.”
Despite a lobbying effort by his commissioner of public safety, Shumlin failed to shepherd a decriminalization bill through the Legislature during his first term. The 2013 session, however, looks to be more promising. House Speaker Shap Smith, the chief hurdle to decriminalization in the General Assembly, has said he’ll allow hearings on the issue in the House Judiciary Committee.
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