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August 22, 2013

Reports Shed New Light on the Death of Michael Hastings


Michael Hastings, the acclaimed journalist who considered Vermont his "spiritual home" after spending parts of his life here, died in a fiery, early-morning car wreck in Los Angeles in June. The strange circumstances surrounding the crash and Hastings' history of reporting articles unfriendly to the powers-that-be prompted a flurry of theories suggesting that the incident was an assassination.

Now an autopsy report and an exhaustive newspaper feature have revealed new details about Hastings and the crash that killed him.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles coroner's office released its official report about the Hastings crash, declaring it an accident and noting that drugs were found in his system, but, in the coroner's view, they did not play a role in the crash. Via the Los Angeles Times

Coroner's officials said Hastings had traces of amphetamine in his system, consistent with possible intake of methamphetamine many hours before death,  as well as marijuana. Neither were considered a factor in the crash, according to toxicology reports. 

The cause of death was massive blunt force trauma consistent with a high-speed crash. He likely died within seconds, the report said.

Continue reading "Reports Shed New Light on the Death of Michael Hastings" »

July 18, 2013

This Week's Issue: The Adirondack Issue

071713-coverYou know there's, like, a whole world on the other side of Lake Champlain, right? Where you can canoe, eatget an Airstream refurbished, eat, fight over environmental stuff and so much more? Well, there is. So make like Samuel de Champlain, and get crossing!

In other news this week ...

  • Mary Alice McKenzie of the Burlington Boys and Girls Club wants to talk about gangs. Is Burlington ready to listen?
  • Sewage plants overflow frequently into waterways where Vermonters recreate, but the volume of those spills remains a mystery.
  • State prosecutors took the rare step of using a grand jury to charge a Winooski cop with assault for a recent shooting incident. Why did they do it? 
  • And in Fair Game, Paul Heintz evaluates Shumlin's first term as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, looks into a possible ambassadorship for Vermont's biggest political fundraiser, notes our senior senator's Vermont fundraiser for D.C. donors and bids farewell to one of our own.

May 13, 2013

Hardy Macia Fights for Medical Marijuana as He Fights for His Life


Update, 6:08 p.m.: Hardy Macia passed away late this afternoon, according to a source close to his family. Friends and fellow activists alike have already begun posting remembrances on his Facebook wall. "Rest in peace, Hardy," wrote one friend. "We will never forget how you went out fighting. You have been such a positive influence on so many people — will miss you, man."


Hardy Macia is a hardcore activist. The 43-year-old software developer and native Vermonter is a longtime Libertarian; he served on the Grand Isle Selectboard and ran as the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2004 hoping to cut taxes, lower the drinking age and legalize pot. In 2007, he moved to New Hampshire, where he was active in Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson's 2012 presidential campaign.

Now Macia is back in Vermont, fighting for his life. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in August 2012. It's typically a treatable form of cancer, but Macia's has not responded the way he and his doctors had hoped. He was recently hospitalized in New Hampshire, then transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington to be closer to family. He's since been moved to a family member's home in Westford.

In a private Facebook message to me this morning, he summed up his prognosis: "My time is short," he wrote, "the doctors are saying I have days left."

His condition might be a private family matter but for the fact that he's seized this opportunity to continue his campaign to change New Hampshire's marijuana laws. A week ago, he made a 4-minute video in his New Hampshire hospital room and posted it to YouTube. Speaking in a whisper because of a collapsed lung, he implores Gov. Maggie Hassan to help patients like him access medical marijuana. The New Hampshire legislature is currently considering a medical marijuana bill, and it needs the governor's support to pass. "This is about the patients, and doctors," he rasps, "and having the medicine that the patients need." 

Macia explains that he occasionally uses marijuana to ease his pain. "To get to sleep at night, sometimes it's the only thing that helps put me out, versus some of the harder drugs they give me, such as the oxycodone or vicodin or whatever."

Macia's video has been widely shared in Libertarian circles and online — an article appeared on the Huffington Post on Wednesday. The Concord Monitor dispatched a reporter to interview Macia from his hospital room in Burlington last week, as well. 

I asked Macia if Hassan had responded to his plea. Their response, he wrote, was that she will "listen to all sides." 

Take a few minutes, if you can, and listen to Macia's argument. Politics aside, it's hard not to be moved by his drive and dedication to the issue, not to mention his will to live. You can't help but hope he keeps fighting.

Image from Macia's National Youth Rights Association bio.

April 15, 2013

The Week Ahead: April 15-21, 2013

The Week AheadPay your taxes!

Here's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week. Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, April 15

  • At 10 a.m., Burlington bigwigs (mayor, police chief) and law enforcement will hold a press conference at the U.S. Attorney's office in Burlington on the "heroin epidemic," which has rather suddenly replaced prescription opiates as the scourge of Vermont. 
  • That whole assault-weapons ban in Burlington thing? The city council's charter change committee takes it up today. At the very convenient time of 11:30 a.m. in city hall.
  • Vermont's health care reform is important — but damn confusing. Hear Mark Larson, director of the Office of Health Care Access, explain it live at 5:25 on Channel 17.

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: April 15-21, 2013" »

April 14, 2013

Heroin Habits Spread Burglary Epidemic in Burlington, Police Chief Says

Mike SchirlingFederal, state and local law-enforcement officials have scheduled a Monday morning press conference in Burlington to outline new initiatives against the growing use of hard drugs in Vermont and the crimes associated with them.

The current scope of these problems "is like nothing any of us have ever experienced," a police chief with 30 years' experience in the state told a neighborhood meeting in Burlington last week.

Lianne Tuomey, head of the 24-member University of Vermont police force, added that methamphetamines have become part of the mix of illegal drugs used on the UVM campus and in the rest of the city. "We mirror the culture from which we come," Tuomey said in regard to drug use among UVM students.

Many local opioid addicts have switched to heroin from Oxycontin, a prescribed pain-killer, Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling (pictured) said at the Ward 6 Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting on April 11. The reason, he explained, is a change made in the Oxycontin formula by its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, that has diminished the drug's attractiveness to abusers. Oxycontin has been re-engineered to decrease its potency when snorted or injected — which had been favored modes of ingestion among those seeking quick highs.

Heroin use has consequently burgeoned in Burlington, Schirling said. And the expense of maintaining this habit has fueled the upsurge in burglaries in the city during the past couple of years, he added. Schirling said a "mid-level addict" requires as many as 15 bags of heroin per day, each of which retails for $20 in Burlington. That equates to a yearly cost of about $100,000.

"That's what's driving these issues," Schirling said in regard to the rise in burglaries and other thefts in Burlington. "The No. 1 driver is opiate addiction." The BPD has had "some significant successes" in burglary-related arrests, the chief continued. But by way of analogy to the crime/drug "epidemic" in the city, Schirling added, "We're plugging fingers into lots of holes in a gigantic dam."

Continue reading "Heroin Habits Spread Burglary Epidemic in Burlington, Police Chief Says" »

April 08, 2013

The Week Ahead: April 8-14, 2013

The Week AheadHere's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week. Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, April 8

  • Burlington City Council. Shannon v. Paul. Round two. The gloves come off 5:30 p.m. at City Hall Auditorium.
  • After that, at 7 p.m., a newly appointed panel tries to succeed where the Burlington City Council failed by avoiding a lawsuit and completing a mandatory redistricting of the city's seven wards. At Burlington High School. Channel 17 will carry both meetings live.
  • At 7:30 p.m., presents a talk by Dan Gillmor, columnist for the Guardian, a former Vermont Press Bureau reporter and an expert on new media. Alumni Auditorium at Champlain College. 

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: April 8-14, 2013" »

February 28, 2013

Pot Decriminalization Bill Will Miss Crossover Deadline, But Live to Toke Another Day

JointLeaders are cloistered under the ornate, marble dome. Everyone outside is anxiously awaiting the puff of white smoke that will signal consensus.

No, not the election of a new pope in Vatican City — the pot bill in the Vermont Statehouse!

A bill to decriminalize possession of “small” amounts of marijuana — two ounces or less — is one of the most hotly anticipated of the year. That’s because after a messy showdown in Senate last year, the bill’s main obstacle — House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) — agreed that he would allow the legislation to proceed in his chamber this year.

But with two weeks to go until the mid-session “crossover” deadline — the lawmaker equivalent of an all-star break — the bill hasn’t made an appearance. There's been no sign of it in committee and no word about a hearing. You’d have better luck finding a bag of Cheetos in a UVM dorm room at 4:20.

Well, stoners, take heart. Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) let slip to Seven Days that House and Senate leaders have made a deal to grant the decrim bill an extension, allowing it to survive the mid-March crossover deadline. “If they were to pass a bill and it came over two weeks after crossover deadline, we’d still consider it,” Sears said this week.

Continue reading "Pot Decriminalization Bill Will Miss Crossover Deadline, But Live to Toke Another Day" »

January 17, 2013

This Week's Issue: A Biomass Battle; The Revolving Door Spins Again

Cover-011613In this week's print edition of Seven Days, which you can read on your iPhone or iPad with our new free app...

January 04, 2013

We're Number … 25?

BoozyBurlington has cracked another "Best place to (insert whatever here)" list. But the Queen City's latest superlative is not as one of the top burghs to raise a family or for the highest rate of smug Prius drivers per capita. According to the folks over at the Daily Beast, BTV ranks as the 25th booziest city in the country. (Milwaukee, Boston was number one, FYI.) 

I was initially surprised, and a little offended, we only ranked 25 — behind the likes of Cleveland and Fargo, no less. That is until I remembered that Burlington is also routinely named among the healthiest cities in the country. So that either means the boozehound portion of the population seriously gets after it to make up for the teetotalers — a notion supported by the study's finding that 19.4 percent of the local populace are binge drinkers — or that Burlingtonians have an uncanny ability to snowshoe/ski/kayak/save the planet/raise kids with devastating hangovers. Either way, slaínte!

December 19, 2012

Zuckerman, Other Lawmakers to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill

David Zuckerman

Could Vermont follow the lead of Colorado and Washington and legalize marijuana?

Don't bet the stash on it. But a handful of lawmakers — including senator-elect David Zuckerman (pictured) — is drafting legislation for the upcoming session to legalize, tax and regulate the green stuff.

Pot reformers in Montpelier have been focused on a more incremental step: decriminalizing marijuana possession in Vermont. But advocates like Zuckerman see the recent votes in Washington and Colorado as giving momentum for legalization — or at least a conversation about it.

Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat representing Chittenden County, said he's asked legislative council to draft a legalization bill and was told by the legislature's lawyers that "a handful" of other lawmakers had made the same request. Rep. Susan Hatch Davis (P/D-Washington) is one of them, according to Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), leader of the House Progressive caucus. The others are unknown because the bill-drafting process is confidential.

Zuckerman doesn't expect legalization — which he prefers to call "regulation and taxation" — to pass this year. But he says it deserves to be part of the broader discussion over drug policy. Employing an agricultural metaphor, the Hinesburg farmer compares his effort to planting seeds that will bear fruit down the line.

Continue reading "Zuckerman, Other Lawmakers to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill" »

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