We have a serious substance abuse problem in this state that frankly goes back generations. Through a strong social program (think Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) we have done a pretty good job in reducing public intoxication. We have done an amazing job in reducing smoking amongst the general population.  But we are doing a very bad job in handling opiate distribution and addiction.

The causes are multifold. Doctors have been too willing to prescribe painkillers to address the apparent needs of their patients. Insurance companies have been too willing to pay these bills after the therapeutic time for the drug has passed. People have been too willing to take pills to attempt to cure what ails them. Parents are not being strict enough with their children. Young people are being foolish (or can I say crazy?) to ingest something that they have no idea what is in the stuff and what it will do to them.

When 10 people overdose in Barre over a weekend you know there is a very serious problem in our midst.  So what to do about it?

First, we should prosecute any person who is dealing illegal drugs, with enhanced penalties to anyone who sells to, or has a reason to believe the drug will go to, a minor. A dealer should tremble with fear at the thought of selling drugs in Vermont.

Second, we should have a very pro-active program in our schools, churches, and other organizations catering to young people, informing them of the risks of taking unregulated, illegal drugs.

Third, we need better treatment for addicts.  And while it is good to save a life by administering Narcan to an overdosed person, if that is all we do we have not treated that person but in fact may have become a contributor to his or her addiction.

Fourth, we need to ask what is the reason for the rise in drug usage? Is it our culture, the easy availability, the lack of ambition, poverty, the lack of parental involvement, or a combination of these and other causes? We need to try and address those problems if we can.

This also brings me to pot, ie, marijuana. There is a serious effort in the Vermont legislature to legalize the production, sale and consumption of pot, as has been done in Colorado. I am against this, and here is why.

Pot is illegal under federal law. States like Colorado are doing what they are doing only because the current administration in our nation’s capital has decided not to enforce the law. So what does that mean for Vermont? Well, any efforts we take could be undone by a change in administration in Washington. And if the federal government does decide to do something, the issue will be federalized and Vermont’s efforts will be wasted.

I am also concerned about the message that pot consumption sends to our youth. “Oh, it’s okay to do something illegal.” In my book that is never a good answer, with the possible exception of civil disobedience to protest a morally repugnant law which does not personally benefit the protester. And I believe that promotion of pot is in fact contributing to the opiate crisis.

But if the majority of our legislature wants to legalize the sale of marijuana, then I’d prefer a low-cost, Vermont solution than a multimillion dollar pot infrastructure with taxes and heavy enforcement (like the liquor business). Let’s authorize farms to sell raw pot at farmer’s markets in limited quantities with appropriate restrictions and disclosure requirements. This would be something along the lines and not altogether different than our rules for selling unpasteurized cider.