Burlington's City Council Monday night will decide whether to add an advisory referendum to the November ballot asking voters if they want to legalize — and tax — marijuana and hemp.
The non-binding question would ask voters if they back the following statement: "The people of Burlington support the legalization, regulation and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products."
Supporters hope to use this vote as a way to convince lawmakers and other leaders to reconsider the national prohibition on marijuana.
A group of citizens has been collecting signatures for several months in hopes of getting the question put on the ballot by citizen initiative. However, that effort fell about 400 votes shy of the required 1653 signatures by the September 23 deadline.
Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) is sponsoring, and supporting, the resolution. She decided to ask the council to put the question on the ballot because she believes Burlington voters should have a chance to weigh in on this question.
"The idea here is to make sure that we take the advantage of the November election and likely a very big turnout in the governor's race rather than wait until March when there is not likely to be as many people voting," said Mulvaney-Stanak.
The ballot item could give Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie a boost in the Queen City given his surname is a convenient homonym for "doobie". Perhaps a Doobies for Dubie group is in the offing?
"I think it's a debate we should have because this a timely issue right now around the country, and it's an important policy debate. Legalizing this plant could have a potential positive impact on our economy and is right now costing us through corrections and police time — all because we are criminalizing a plant," said Mulvaney-Stanak. "It's time to call the question and have some open dialogue about it."
Albert Petrarca, of the citizens group Grassroots Burlington, said they're not asking the entire council to support the concept behind the resolution.
"We're just asking them to extend democracy to the voters and let them have a voice on this issue," said Petrarca. "We are dealing with a failed 70-plus year old policy. Lawmakers from the local to the state to the national level have failed to provide any leadership on this — it's a failed leadership based on ignorance. You still have people people making judgments based on the 'Reefer Madness' myth and the gateway drug argument."
"People are ready to move beyond this madness of the drug war and bring it out of the darkness and into the economy," said Petrarca, who argues that legalizing cannibas and hemp would stimulate jobs to grow, cultivate, harvest, package, distribute and sell the products.
California voters are having a spirited debate on a statewide proposition to legalize marijuana, known as Prop 19. In that state, two recent polls show voters in favor of legalizing marijuana — one poll has the pro marijuana initiative winning by 5 points, the other by 9 points.
The Burlington City Council has twice rejected placing advisory votes on the ballot calling on the state legislature and governor to consider decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and replace criminal penalties with civil fines.
Those measures were sponsored by Councilor Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1) and Councilor Tim Ashe (P-Ward 3). Ashe is now a state senator.
Adrian told Seven Days he supports Mulvaney-Stanak's resolution, noting that it was key Progressives in 2008 and 2009 who tipped the scales against the previous resolutions.
Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington) championed the issue in the House, but the legislation failed to garner enough support under the Golden Dome despite efforts of an grassroots group known as VALID.
Earlier this year, Montpelier voters supported a measure calling on the legislature to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The Burlington City Council meets at 7 p.m., Monday night in City Hall Auditorium. A public forum is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.