Police role in lawmaking raises questions
MONTPELIER — As the effort to legalize recreational marijuana died this year in the Vermont Legislature, three uniformed police chiefs sat in the back of the House chamber watching.
Members of law enforcement agencies have been a vocal part of the legalization debate, with many officers making clear their strong opposition to the idea and making their case to the public and to legislators.
Uniformed police officers often make their opinions heard through the Vermont Police Association, which pays a lobbyist, or other police associations, but they also speak to legislators directly, wearing the uniforms of communities that may have yet to take an official stance on an issue.
“I’m the president of the Vermont Police Association,” said Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel, after the House rejected legalization and expanded decriminalization. “I’m a representative of my community and a representative of law enforcement.”
Vermont law defines lobbying as communicating with legislators or administrative officials for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative actions. People who get paid over $500 to lobby or people or groups who spend over $500 are considered lobbyists and must register with the state.
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