A Vermont Just Justice member wrote this letter to the Vermont Senate Judiciary committee in support of S.119,
An act relating to a public health response to drug use
Our organization, Vermont Just Justice, is writing to you in regard to the recent bill sent to your committee. This bill is intended to decriminalize the personal use of drugs that are currently classified as a criminal offense. The legislative wording states a clear understanding of:
• drug misuse as a public health crisis with fatal overdoses significantly rising
• criminal justice response ineffective and expensive
• criminal legal response detrimental to individuals, families, people of color, or those living in poverty
• criminal legal ramifications continue to keep people with addictions in poverty, and adversely affects their children, and families by inhibiting housing, education, benefits and income
• increases needless incarceration
• addiction is a disease classified in medicine as a chronic brain disorder that responds to treatment versus punishment
This legislation further seeks to establish a Drug Use Standards and Advisory Board within the Department of Health. The board would consist of 11 people with various skill sets and education to determine benchmark dosages of personal use.
While we think the expertise on this proposed board is impressive, the reality of 11 people with this skill set convening once a year to determine benchmark usage of a wide range of drugs is an overreach. People are dying every day from opioid related addictions.
Why not simplify this process and begin with narcotics? Vermont law establishes what qualifies as a narcotic. A benchmark dosage for a well established addiction is very different than for a new user. The timeline in the proposed legislation is ambiguous. It is noted that the Board of Health will initiate rule-making no later than September 1, 2023, while the yet to be determined Drug Use Standards and Advisory Board will meet once a year and have a recommendation on or before January 1, 2025.
When the personal use benchmark is determined to create a civil offense, our local diversion programs will be overstretched. One of our Vermont Just Justice members interviewed a staff member of Valley Court Diversion in White River Junction. This person was very passionate about the value and success of their work, but is struggling to keep employees. remarking that” people can earn more money working at Kohl’s.” If we can prevent incarceration for a drug addiction, that money can go to the support services we so desperately need. Money that needs to be appropriated in real time.
We are asking that the Senate Judiciary Committee support this bill, move up the timeline, and maybe start where it will count the most: decriminalizing personal opioid use first and foremost. The other drugs can be worked out on a timeline, but right now, even today we are losing Vermonters at an exponential rate with opioid disuse. Waiting for an 11 member committee to come up with a recommendation by January 1, 2025 shall only add more of our fellow citizens to the rising overdose epidemic.
Thank you very much for considering this important bill. Remember, drug use is Malum Prohibitum, or “bad because we say it is bad.”
— Leslie Thorsen and Vermont Just Justice
Read the proposed bill, S.119, here.