Building on the Success of Burlington’s Question 4

The question was simple enough: “Shall the people of Burlington support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”

On November 6, 70% of Burlington voters responded yes. Unfortunately, their vote was non-binding. They were in good company, though, with the voters of Colorado and Washington State, whose votes on the same issue were binding, and also in the affirmative. The legal questions are still being worked out, because marijuana is illegal at the federal level.

Now is the time for other states to push forward as well. Vermont is with seventeen other states plus the District of Columbia to have legalized medical marijuana. Polls in Vermont show that 74% of respondents believe marijuana is as safe or safer than alcohol. (source: http://www.mpp.org/states/vermont/)

A recent show on VPR’s Vermont Edition (November 14, 2012: http://www.vpr.net/flash/audio_player/audio_player.php?id=38414) focused on the possibilities of legalization in Vermont. The conclusion from state Sen. Joe Benning and outgoing Rep. Jason Lorber is that decrim–making marijuana possession more like a traffic ticket–should pass in the Vermont legislature this year. However, decrim is not legalization. There are still tens of thousands of marijuana arrests in New York State, our neighbor, under “decrim.”

The second guest on that show, Albert Petrarca, suggested that simultaneously, we need to push for the next step beyond decrim at the local level. Taking Burlington’s success statewide, we should have initiatives in as many towns as possible for Town Meeting Day (the first Tuesday in March) If the towns can do that, it paves the way for the next legislature to take another step forward.

The Federal status should reflect the will of the states. President Obama could call off the DEA from state-licensed dispensaries with a stroke of the pen. He just needs to deschedule marijuana out of the federal status that says there is no medicinal use. “President Choom” has no re-election fears standing between him and ending this persecution. Will his supporters hold his feet to the fire on this issue?

ACTION STEPS:

  • See the BTV Green Facebook page, see if anyone else has posted that they have a petition ready for your town. (There is not much there yet.)
  • My Town Clerk says that this year’s deadline is January 24. The statutory requirement for getting an initiative on the ballot is 5% of your town’s voters. In our town, it would go on the Australian Ballot, but some towns only have voting during the meeting. You might want to call your town clerk, just to confirm. If your Town Meeting is before Tuesday, March 5, your deadline will also be earlier. List of town clerks can be found here: http://vermont-elections.org/elections1/town_clerks_guide.html
  • Try to find like-minded people in your town who are willing to help circulate petitions. Decide on language. Will you use something simple like Burlington’s, or craft your own?
  • Create a petition form. I’ll be creating one soon at Google Docs if you want to copy mine. Include the full text of the question at the top of every page, and leave room for a date, full address, printed name and signature.
  • Start collecting signatures. Get a copy of the voter checklist from your Town Clerk to make sure you’re getting registered voters, and to help you go door-by-door. Post to the BTV Green page if you are on Facebook, and other groups you belong to online, that you are collecting signatures for your town.
  • Hand in your signatures to your Town Clerk as soon as you have enough. It’s a good idea to collect 120% to 200% of what you are required to have, in case some signers misunderstand the requirement that they be voters in your town, or in case someone tries to challenge every difficult-to-read name or address.

MORE INFO:

Woodchuck Report with post-election coverage of this issue:
http://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/host-bonnie-scott-and-guest-paul-dame-former-candidate-state-representative

CCTV interview with Albert Petrarcha:
http://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/albert-petrarca-legalization-cannabis-and-hemp

The BTV Green group
https://www.facebook.com/BtvGreen
http://btvgreen.com/2012/11/for-immediate-release/

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The Problem With Proposed E-Commerce Sales Tax Reform

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch (D)When I first heard about Peter Welch introducing the Main Street Fairness Act, I will admit that I was torn.  On the one hand, I am a huge supporter of local “mom & pop” shops, which are a huge asset to the small town communities of Vermont.  On the other hand, I staunchly support the principles of a free market and cannot reconcile the implications that the MSFA would have in this regard.  What to do, what to do…

After much consideration, I have to say that, as much as I want to promote the interests of small businesses, I do cannot bring myself to support this piece legislation.  I understand the uphill battle that small business has when trying to compete with online retailers.  I can honestly say that I have opted to pay the extra few dollars to purchase many items locally, rather than ordering online, just to chip in to our local infrastructure; but many do not share this sentimental approach to consumerism.  Most see the bottom line: they want the lowest price on the products that they purchase.  This has, unarguably, driven a lot of business into the online world.

Living in eastern Vermont, I can see an analogous scenario in the realm of brick and mortar businesses.  There are few retail stores in my area of Vermont, so most of my grocery shopping and “general needs” purchases are made just over the river, in New Hampshire, where there is no state sales tax.  This illustrates the competitiveness of the free market, allowing businesses to put down roots in places that provide them with advantages over their opposition.  As a consumer, I thus have the freedom to spend my money where I please, finding deals across state lines when possible.  So, how is this any different than shopping online to get a better deal?

The online market removes the obstacle of geography from the picture.  As I said, my proximity to tax-free New Hampshire provides for a quick 10-minute drive to savings.  However, folks who live further away would spend more in gas than they would save by avoiding the sales tax.  Enter the Internet: problem solved.

I can go online and make tax free purchases to my little heart’s content, provided the business I buy from does not have a physical location in my state.  This stipulation about taxing purchases when a company has an in-state presence makes sense to me; without it, I could dodge paying local sales tax by simply clicking my mouse instead of swiping my debit card.  And, I can even see a justification for including a sales tax on online purchases to be paid to the state in which a business is headquartered.  Think of it as tax revenue from “online tourism”.  But, what justification exists for me to pay a Vermont state sales tax on an item purchased online from a company that chose to set up shop in Delaware or Montana, which do not have any sales tax?  Shouldn’t I be able to digitally spend my money in any state I so choose, just as I can physically spend it anywhere?  By this same logic, should I have to show ID to make purchases in New Hampshire so that they can tack on a Vermont state sales tax?  I think not.  Congressman Welch says that “online retailers need to play by the same rules as main street merchants,” but his solution does not reflect this statement.

I can concede that there is some tax reform needed in the current way that online transactions are carried out.  Technically, one is supposed to declare any taxes that have gone unpaid through online purchases when they file their returns, but who actually does that?  Furthermore, who actually keeps track of that in the first place?  I certainly don’t.  Unfortunately, the Main Street Fairness Act is going to get lumped in with other initiatives to avoid going over the impending “fiscal cliff”, and will likely pass Congress.  Much like communism, this is an idea that sounds good on paper, but does not translate to success when applied in the real world.

Supporting Our Troops on Veteran’s Day

ArlingtonMany are quick to judge those of us who oppose our military actions overseas, saying that we should support our troops and the battles that they fight on our behalf. However, it is important to realize that supporting a war and supporting our troops are not inseparable notions. I do support our troops. I recognize and appreciate the great sacrifices that they make for us every single day. And because of that respect and appreciation, I can think of no better way to show my support than to oppose putting our servicemen (and women) in harms way unnecessarily.

Our interventionist foreign policy is getting thousands of American soldiers killed, and to what end? We now have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of enemies overseas that we would have never had if we had taken care of business in Afghanistan and then come home. It is time that we show our troops the respect that they truly deserve and stop asking them to risk their lives in battles that do nothing to increase our security here at home. Their courage to enlist for our protection demands greater responsibility from those who send them off to die on foreign shores.

To those of you who serve or have served, you have my eternal thanks and all of the respect of my being. Happy Veteran’s Day and God bless America.

Proud To Be Wasting My Vote

Obama and Romney

“The country is in shambles, but that’s okay as long as we just keep getting richer.”

It’s nice to know how honorable and trustworthy the men vying to lead our nation are. This time it’s Romney who is profiting from our struggles, earning millions from the auto industry bailout, but make no mistake, Obama is just as corrupt. While we all suffer from the actions (and inaction) of a corrupt system of government, bureaucracy, and corporate interests, the fat cats just keep getting fatter. Our nation is on the edge of a financial cliff, and all they can argue about is whether we should jump head first or feet first.

I’m proud to be voting Libertarian on Tuesday, supporting Gary Johnson, and not choosing between the lesser of two evils. Call it a wasted vote if you want, but there isn’t a candidate on the ticket this year I could be prouder to be wasting my vote on.

 

Gary Johnson 2012