Rep. Woodward supports pot decriminalization

Courtesy of Mark Woodward

Mark Woodward

Recently re-elected state representative for Johnson, Mark Woodward, reacted on Tuesday, Nov. 27, to Governor Shumlin’s press conference earlier that same day. Shumlin had just dropped a bombshell.

“He said in his press conference he thought this year we would work through some very tricky things, one of them being marijuana decriminalization,” said Woodward. “When I heard that today, I was pretty amazed.”

The governor is pushing for decriminalization for possession of small amounts of marijuana, legislation which would be similar to laws in other states like Massachusetts and Colorado.

“Generally I support it. I think that there’s a libertarian part of me that believes that people have the right… to smoke pot if that’s what they want to do,” said Woodward. “I do not see that this, quote, ‘War on Drugs’ has been a success.”

News of the governor’s intentions disclosed at last week’s press conference resonated throughout the state, even though it didn’t exactly come without warning. “I know he ran on it two years ago, saying he favored it,” said Woodward.

The issue has been around for decades and changing generations have grown gradually more comfortable with the conversation, and the governor himself ran a successful election campaign never wavering from his support of decriminalization.

Woodward thinks that the times have changed, at least here in Vermont. “I don’t suspect that supporting this decriminalization is something that will be politically dangerous for people,” he said.

The representative’s forecast notwithstanding, it is difficult to predict whether the measure can pass.

“I think it has probably a fifty-fifty chance,” said Woodward, who feels that support and opposition to the bill will come from either side of the aisle. “It may be a bi-partisan thing. I think there are Republicans, I know there used to be Republicans, who were libertarians to that effect, and said, ‘The government does not need to be in your personal habits.’”

Woodward, who like the governor is a Democrat, envisions a long fight for the governor’s pet project, even after Shumlin gets someone to introduce the bill. “I will say,” said Woodward, “that it’ll be an interesting slog to get that through, in that I don’t think the speaker of the house [Shap Smith, D] is in favor of it.”

Making a potentially uphill fight even steeper, the governor announced his intentions to pursue death-with-dignity legislation, which will further tax the time legislators have to devout to each issue.

Woodward said he will support the push for death-with-dignity legislation, but predicts that, unlike support of marijuana decriminalization, supporting death-with-dignity will come at a price for politicians. He feels that in the minds of his constituents, the issue of personal freedom becomes cloudier when suicide is part of the equation.

But navigating truly through cloudy issues is fast becoming a hallmark of Vermont politics. There is no doubt that this battle will garner national attention. “I served on the legislature when we did civil unions and I personally think Vermont, this little state, leads the country in so many ways,” said Woodward.

So, it’s unclear what chances either contentious bill might have, but one thing is certain:things are going to get pretty hot during a cold January down in Montpelier.