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Meet The Vermont Marijuana Legalization Advocate Running For The Actual Office Of ‘High Bailiff’

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The irony is not lost on Dave Silberman. The Vermont-based drug policy advocate and lawyer who has been working for years to reform the state’s marijuana laws is running for the office of…high bailiff.

No, really. In Vermont, each county elects a high bailiff whose singular responsibility is to arrest the sheriff if they engage in unlawful conduct. Silberman wants to occupy that position in Addison County—and he plans to use it as a platform to advance bold reforms, including legalizing all drugs.

The candidate recently spoke to Marijuana Moment about the need to have a voice challenging the status quo—rather than someone in law enforcement, as is typically the case for high bailiffs—assume the role.

And Silberman, who played a key role in convincing Vermont lawmakers to legalize cannabis possession and home cultivation in 2018 and is now working to get them to add legal sales, also discussed how his background in marijuana advocacy is informing his campaign.

While the coronavirus pandemic has meant he will have to stump remotely for the time being, the would-be high bailiff is set on reaching voters to engage them, as well as legislators, on the importance of ending the war on drugs and taking a public health-focused approach to substance use issues. And he’s convinced based on conversations in liberal and conservative strongholds alike that the message will resonate.

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Marijuana Moment: You’ve talked about the need to put someone outside of the law enforcement community in the position of high bailiff. Can you expand on that?

Dave Silberman: The office of high bailiff, really it’s a holdover of our British common-law roots. It’s in the Vermont state Constitution. We’re the only state that still has the office. And the office was created in order to ensure that somebody can hold the sheriff to account—that the sheriff is not lawless. The high bailiff is the only person in each county with technical authority to arrest the sheriffs, and that makes it effectively a police oversight role.

Now, over the last five decades or so, the importance of that has been forgotten, and a tradition has taken root, where the position is typically held by a member of the law enforcement community, either the sheriff’s favorite deputy or his political rival that wants to raise awareness and name recognition ahead of a potential challenge for the sheriff, which is also an elected position. But when the people cede the power of oversights of the law enforcement community to the law enforcement community itself, we lose accountability. And when we lose accountability, we get police abuse.

We see this all the time—we saw it recently in Minnesota, and that’s not the only time we’ve seen it—and we see police abuse in Vermont as well. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that electing a civilian as high bailiff is going to fix this problem, but I can absolutely promise you that electing me as high bailiff will shine a bright, bright light on this problem because I’m a loudmouth and I love talking about this stuff and I want to fix these problems.

MM: How is your background in drug policy reform informing your campaign and how would it inform your role if elected?

DS: My rooting in drug policy reform advocacy, it’s really what drove me to run this campaign. The office itself, I am never going to be called upon to arrest the sheriff—but I will have the opportunity to talk directly with voters. As I campaign both for myself and for legislative offices up ballot and our governor’s election or lieutenant governor’s election, I’m going to be going virtually door-to-door—I wanted to go physically door-to-door, but now I’m going to have to do it by phone and I’m going to have to do it by mailing out to voters—but I intend to speak directly with voters about drug policy reform, criminal justice reform in a way that I think appeals across partisan lines.

When I talk with people, for example, about the need to expand access to expungement, I get stronger positive reactions in traditionally conservative strongholds than I do in liberal strongholds in Addison County.

I organized a series of expungement clinics with our state’s attorney, our local prosecutor—three of them over the last two years. I went around advertising them, putting up flyers in different businesses. And you know, yeah, the natural food co-op was happy to put up a flyer and the local independent bookstore was happy to put up a flyer—but you know who I had the deepest most meaningful conversations with? It was at the bait-and-tackle and at the McDonald’s because people who have had any exposure to the criminal justice system know that, without expungement, people face a lifetime of collateral consequences of their conviction, even after they’ve paid repay their debt to society. They have a lifetime of daily discrimination in housing and education and employment, banking services.

I’ve always found that talking with voters about issues is meaningful, impactful and helps move issues forward. Since then, we’ve reformed Vermont’s expungement laws, and the legislators in Addison County all voted for those reforms because we talked about them and we put them in the public and we put them in the local newspaper. I’ve been going around this county for years talking about marijuana legalization, and we got that done and we got that done through grassroots advocacy. We’re going to get tax-and-regulate [cannabis reform] done this year too I hope in the same way.

I truly believe that we can do this with broader drug policy reform and broader criminal justice reform as well. That’s what drove me to do this campaign because I really found opportunity through talking with voters and driving up the vote up ballot, to build a coalition of voters and legislators willing to actually get these things done, not just talk about them.

MM: I know you mentioned likely not needing to perform the role of arresting the sheriff, but can you talk me through any scenarios where that might be required?

DS: Look, let’s be real. If the sheriff needs to be arrested, most likely it’ll be the result of some federal investigation. Right? He is absconding funds. He’s engaged in some sort of denial of civil rights. And then the FBI would come in and arrest him because it would be on a federal warrant. I should pause and say, I know our current sheriff, Peter Newton. I trust our current sheriff, Peter Newton. Peter Newton is a law-abiding man and I do not want to imply here at all that I worry about Peter Newton breaking the law. But, you know, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have meaningful oversight in place.

I don’t expect to ever have to do it. But if I did—if I were ever to be called upon to execute an arrest warrant against the sheriff—I would do stuff with a somber state of mind. I would, I presume, have the state’s attorney with me and I presume I would have either the Middlebury Police Department captain or somebody from the state police to assist me. That would be that.

Also, if the sheriff became incapacitated—whether through arrest or otherwise—the high bailiff temporarily assumes the powers of the office of the sheriff. As an attorney with a lot of experience working with very large organizations, I feel like I can handle that sort of several-week-long position. I would immediately look into the books and figure out what’s going on. I would continue to run the operations of the department in a steady state until the governor appointed a replacement, which is what Vermont law provides.

MM: What is the big picture plan if you’re elected high bailiff?

DS: This campaign is part of my sort of 10-year plan to legalize all drugs. And that is, you know, crazy sounding right off the bat, but I’m the kind of person who, when he sets his mind to something, just sticks with it and gets it done. I’ve talked with legislators, people in office today, who recognize that the Portugal [decriminalization] model is a better model. I’ve talked to the legislators who have told me that they would love to vote for a bill to decriminalize all drugs and replace our police-first approach to drug problems with a public health approach.

I believe that there is a good base of a coalition in there that can be built upon if somebody is willing to put in the work and make the effort on a consistent basis. I believe there’s over a dozen members of the House of Representatives—that’s about 10 percent of the House—there’s a long way to go, but it can be done. It can only be done if we can demonstrate that it’s popular. And that’s what I intend to do in this campaign—to talk with voters, get grassroots buy-in and pressure more and more politicians to say, you know what, this is not a crazy idea. This is the right way to do this.

We want to solve Vermont’s opioid crisis? We have to stop trying to arrest our way out of it. We have to actually stop trying to arrest our way out of it, not just saying that we’re going to take a public health approach. We need to stop spending $150 million a year on jails in this state. We spend 9.2 percent of the general fund every year on jails. That’s not cops, that’s not prosecutors, that’s not courts— jails. That robs us of the money we need to solve the underlying problems that actually lead to crimes. And it does nothing—does nothing—to ensure greater safety or reduce problematic drug use. If we replaced the police approach to it with an approach that takes a person in crisis and gives them help, we will actually solve this problem, we will actually drive down the overdose death rate in the state and we’ll make people safer and spend less tax money while we’re at it.

MM: You’re literally the pot guy running for high bailiff. Are you going to lean into that? Will marijuana puns be a part of your campaign?

DS: Look, I am not going to discourage anyone from making a high bailiff joke. I think it’s funny. It’s a little bit of a funny position, right? I take it seriously, I take the duties seriously and I take the opportunity very seriously. But I’m willing to reach voters where they are. And you know, engaging people in the political process sometimes means having a little fun and engaging in some levity. I love the pot puns, send them my way.

That’s not going to be a centerpiece of my campaign. You’re not going to see lawn signs with pot leaves on them. But you know, I’m not going to shy away from it either. My rooting in Vermont politics is drug policy reform and I’m proud of that and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in using cannabis. This stigma—this moral disapproval that we’ve based our drug policy on—means nothing to me.

MM: Do you have plans to use the position of high bailiff as a stepping stone toward running for…higher office down the line?

DS: I’m not in a position in my life today to run for legislative office. I have a kid in high school, I have another kid in sixth grade. It’s just not for me now. I should also say, we have here in Middlebury, two really great state representatives who do good work in the legislature. We have in Addison County, two really great state senators—one of whom is a friend of mine and whose first campaign I didn’t just work on, I was her campaign treasurer when she was elected to office. I am not running this campaign as a marker. I am not running this campaign to threaten anybody for any office. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say I will never run for any office, but that is not what I’m focusing on. I don’t see me focusing on that kind of office in the near future.

MM: You lived in Hawaii for a time and you’ve been known to sport some vibrant Hawaiian-style shirts in your Vermont town. Will voters get a taste of that on the trail?

DS: If you are the kind of voter who is deciding who to vote for for high bailiffs based on which candidate has the better aloha shirt collection, I guarantee you, I am your man.

Marijuana Legalization And The Fight For Racial Justice (Op-Ed)

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Politics

New York Doctors Can Now Recommend Medical Marijuana To Patients For Any Condition They See Fit

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As New York prepares the launch of its adult-use marijuana market, the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) announced on Monday a significant expansion of the existing medical cannabis program.

Now doctors will be able to issue medical marijuana recommendations to people for any condition that they feel could be treated by cannabis, rather than rely on a list of specific eligible maladies. Physicians were granted that discretion through the state’s recreational marijuana law that was enacted last year.

The expansion is being made possible as part of OCM’s new Medical Cannabis Program certification and registration system.

“It is terrific to see the Medical Cannabis Program expand so vastly with the launch of the new certification and registration program and the ability of practitioners to determine qualifying conditions as included in the MRTA,” Cannabis Control Board (CCB) Chair Tremaine Wright said in a press release.

“The new cannabis industry is taking shape as we continue to implement the MRTA and provide greater access for New Yorkers to a medicine that we’re learning more about every day,” Wright said. “We’re continuing to move forward swiftly and today’s system launch follows our achievements that already include adding whole flower medical product sales, permanently waiving $50 patient fees, and advancing home cultivation regulations, among others.”

Lat last year, CCB voted unanimously to advance a policy change to allow medical cannabis patients in the state to grow plants for personal use, another change made possible by the broad legalization law that was enacted.

In November, regulators also approved rules for the state’s cannabinoid hemp program, notably clarifying that flower from the crop can be sold but delta-8 THC products are currently prohibited from being marketed.

“Launching the new patient certification and registration system and expanding eligibility for the Medical Cannabis Program are significant steps forward for our program,” OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander said. “We will continue to implement the MRTA and ensure that all New Yorkers who can benefit from medical cannabis have the access they need to do so.”

“It’s important for New Yorkers to know that even as we shift the medical program to the OCM, your access will not be disrupted and the program will continue to expand,” he stressed.

While marijuana retailers have yet to launch in New York, the legalization law signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) already permits adults 21 and older to possess and publicly consume cannabis. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the state have been working to build upon the reform.

For example, a New York senator filed a bill last month to make it so that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can qualify as social equity applicants under the state’s marijuana law.

Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) introduced the legislation, shortly after filing a separate bill to include transgender and non-binary people in the cannabis social equity program. He’s also behind other recent marijuana reform proposals related to cannabis business tax benefits and licensing.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In July, Cooney filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program.

Cooney is also sponsoring a newly filed bill to allow licensed cannabis companies to deduct certain business expenses on their state tax returns.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who replaced Cuomo after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law.

Hochul released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.

The governor said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”

That proposal was also cited in Hochul’s executive budget, which was released last week. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.

The state Department of Labor separately announced in recent guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.

Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Another state legislator filed legislation last month to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes and establish facilities where the psychedelic could be grown and administered to patients.

Colorado Meets Marijuana Industry Diversity Goal Ahead Of Schedule

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Colorado Meets Marijuana Industry Diversity Goal Ahead Of Schedule

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Colorado officials announced on Monday that the state has achieved a “wildly important goal” of increasing diversity in the legal marijuana industry—but the data shows there’s still a way to go before cannabis business ownership is on par with the state’s population demographics.

Nearly 17 percent of the state’s cannabis businesses are now minority-owned as of January 1, the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) reported. Colorado had set a goal of at least 16.8 percent minority ownership in the cannabis sector by June 30, 2022, and that’s already been narrowly exceeded by the beginning of the year.

When data on licensee demographics started to be collected in July 2021, there was 15.2 percent minority ownership in the marijuana market. Now it’s up to 16.8 percent.

As of January 1, the state has also approved 50 social equity licenses for communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Via Colorado DOR.

As one of the first states to legalize marijuana for adult use, there’s been significant pressure on Colorado to ensure that the industry is equitable, benefitting those who have been most impacted under criminalization.

“Colorado is demonstrating that intentionally revising state marijuana laws to be more equitable gets results,” Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator and current CEO of the Parabola Center, told Marijuana Moment.

“If one of the most mature markets can make clear progress, it’s not too late for any market. And although there’s always more to go—we should all be aiming for proportional representation in ownership at the very least—Colorado is setting and reaching reasonable goals,” she said. “It’s good for transparency and it’s good for morale, and having more data on what’s working at the state level is valuable to inform federal policy.”

(Disclosure: Title supports Marijuana Moment’s work via a monthly pledge on Patreon.)

A demographic breakdown of the new data shows that while there’s been an increase in minority ownership, the percentage of black people who own a majority stake in a cannabis business (2.9 percent) is still lower than the percentage of black people who live in the state (4.6 percent).

There’s also a significant disparity when it comes to gender and marijuana licensing. MED’s report says that there are 1,535 men who own a marijuana business, compared to just 350 women.

And with respect to license type, white people have a notably more expansive portfolio compared to other races.

Via MED.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) is also working to right the wrongs of prohibition outside of licensing. For example, last month he granted 1,351 pardons for convictions of possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.

That move focused on people who were made eligible for relief under a new law that increased the legal cannabis possession limit for adults in the state, which Polis signed in May. At the time, he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for amounts under the new, two-ounce limit.

Polis signed an executive order in 2020 that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana. And while earlier legislation that enabled him to do that in an expedited way applied to possession cases involving up to two ounces, his office declined to pardon those with more than one ounce on their records because that amount violated the existing state law.

As the state works to increase diversity in the marijuana industry, it’s also collecting significant tax revenue from cannabis sales.

Last year alone, Colorado generated $423 million in tax revenue from cannabis, the state’s Department of Revenue reported last week.

Nearly $500 million of cannabis tax revenue in Colorado has supported the state’s public school system so far, according to a report from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Massachusetts Marijuana Tax Revenue Now Exceeds Alcohol By Millions

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Governors Across The U.S. Tout Marijuana Reform Progress In State Of The State Speeches And Budgets

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Governors across the U.S. have been taking the opportunity to tout marijuana reform accomplishments as part of their annual State of the State speeches and budget requests this month.

From New York to South Dakota, the comments and proposals from state executives demonstrate how cannabis has become more mainstream and is being talked about in high profile venues alongside more traditional fare such as taxes, education and infrastructure.

It’s also part of a growing theme, as governors have increasingly brought up marijuana policy in State of the State addresses each year to kick off the new year as the legalization movement spreads.

Here’s a look at what governors are saying about marijuana policy in 2022: 

New Jersey

While adult-use marijuana retail sales have yet to launch in New Jersey after voters approved a 2020 legalization referendum, the state’s top executive said in his State of the State address that he’s expecting an economic boon.

“Many jobs await in the cannabis industry ready to take off,” Gov. Phil Murphy (R) said.

The governor also said separately in his second inaugural address this month that “businesses in the new cannabis industry that we are setting up in the name of social justice” are part of efforts to “continue growing the innovation economy that will power our future and make us a model for the nation and the world.”

As the state prepares to implement legal cannabis sales, Murphy said late last year that he’s open to giving adults the right to cultivate marijuana for personal use even though it’s not currently written into the law.

New Mexico

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) talked in here State of the State speech about the economic potential of the marijuana industry under the legalization law she signed last year.

“We’re expanding our economic footprint into every single community,” the governor said in her State of the State address. “Legal cannabis is going to create thousands of jobs and serious tax revenue for local governments to support local services in every corner of our state.”

New York

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.

The governor said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”

That proposal was also cited in Hochul’s executive budget, which was released last week. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.

The briefing book for the executive budget touts how Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has “prioritized getting New York’s cannabis industry up and running” since marijuana was legalized under her predecessor last year. That includes appointing key regulators who’ve been “creating and implementing a comprehensive regulatory framework.”

Rhode Island

The governor of Rhode Island included a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his annual budget plan—the second time he’s done so. And time around, he also added new language to provide for automatic cannabis expungements in the state.

Gov. Dan McKee (D) released his request for the 2023 fiscal year on Thursday, calling for adult-use legalization as lawmakers say they’re separately nearing a deal on enacting the reform. It appears that an outstanding disagreement between the governor and legislators concerning what body should regulate the program remains unresolved based on the new budget proposal, however.

In general, McKee’s plan would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, though it would not provide a home grow option. Adults could also store up to five ounces of marijuana in secured storage in their primary residence.

“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” an executive summary states. “This proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on marijuana cultivation, an additional retail excise tax of 10 percent, and also apply sales tax to cannabis transactions.”

South Dakota

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) isn’t a fan of adult-use legalization, going so far as to fund a lawsuit against a voter-approved 2020 reform initiative that ultimately led to a court ruling voiding the law. Her office has even suggested that activists behind the successful legalization campaign should front the legal bills for the case.

However, she seems to recognize the popularity of the issue and has recently attempted to associate herself with the implementation of the separate medical cannabis legalization law that voters also approved, as she did in her State of the State address this month.

“I take our citizens’ health seriously. I don’t make these decisions lightly. And when we create new policy, we’re going to do everything we can to get it right from day one,” Noem said. “Our state’s medical cannabis program is one example.”

“It was launched on schedule according to the timeline passed by South Dakota voters,” she said. “I know there will be some debate about that program this session. My focus is on making sure South Dakota has the safest, most responsible, and well-run medical cannabis program in the country.”

Noem tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation of the medical cannabis program for an additional year, but while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, delivering a defeat to the governor.

In response, her office started exploring a compromise last year, with one proposal that came out of her administration to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, limit the number of plants that patients could cultivate to three and prohibit people under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.

Advocates weren’t enthused with the proposal, and now they’re taking a two-track approach to enacting broader legalization legislatively and through the ballot.

Virginia

In his final State of the Commonwealth address this month, now former-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) talked about the criminal justice implications of his state’s move to legalize marijuana last year.

“We also worked closely with you to make sure our criminal justice system reflects the Virginia that we are today. Too often, our modern-day punishments and practices have their roots in a more discriminatory and unfair past,” he said. “That’s why we’ve made marijuana use legal.”

He also thanked the legislators who championed the reform “for their work on this policy, which is complicated, but important.”

Meanwhile, the new governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, said recently that while he’s not interested in re-criminalizing marijuana possession, which became legal in the state last summer, but he feels there’s “still work to be done” before he gets behind creating a market for commercial sales and production.

Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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