Vermont High Schools Float Getting Honest with Students About Legal Pot

You can’t ignore the elephant in the room—that is, that cannabis is now legal in Vermont and sold to adults, and it’s only a matter of time until high school students are fully aware of their future options when they become adults.

WCAX in Vermont profiled various school officials to probe what their plans are and how the conversation around cannabis will continue, now that sales are legal for adults.

“Acknowledging that marijuana laws have changed—it’s for sale—so we take a really nuanced view here, which is talking to them about the realities of situations, but also talking to them about where they’re at in their actual lives,” Matt Meunier, a student assistance programming counselor at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont, told WCAX.

Chittenden County—home to Champlain Valley Union High School—is also home to at least 10 cannabis retail stores, and school officials can’t keep pretending that they don’t exist.

“Talking about decision-making, what choices you want and what life you want to live helps take it away from just, ‘Hey, this is all available to you now,’ to what type of member of my community do I want to be? What are my habits?” said Meunier.

Meunier said there are more ways to consume cannabis now, but that there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in student use.

“I think the longer that students put off using for the first time or experimenting for the first time, the easier it gets for them to make those choices and the healthier it will be for them at the end,” said Meunier.

Kelly Dougherty with the Department of Health said that Vermont has the second-highest percentage of people nationwide aged 12 to 17 reporting using cannabis in the past 30 days—but that it’s ultimately up to parents to teach their kids about cannabis, among other things.

The results of a Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan, were released on Dec. 16, 2015 by the university and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The study revealed that daily cannabis use among high school seniors has “changed little since 2010,” despite the advent of legalization in several states and its consideration in many others.

Another interpretation of the study, however, notes that cannabis use becoming more popular than tobacco use, because for the first time “more high school seniors smoke marijuana daily than cigarettes.”

“Parents are the number one influence on their kids. Our kids are watching us all the time and they model the behavior that they see. So, even with alcohol, we recommend that if parents are using alcohol, keep it kind of out of sight and talk to your kids about the risks of it,” said Dougherty.

The main concern appears to be curbing underage use until they are old enough to decide on their own.

“We like to focus on helping youth develop healthy coping strategies, again, protecting brain health so they can be their best selves. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe,” said Dougherty.

On Jan. 22, 2018, Gov. Phil Scott signed the adult-use cannabis bill into law, which made Vermont the ninth state in the nation at the time to have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes. Starting July 1, 2018, adults living in Vermont were permitted to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, as well as grow up to six plants. 

It would take over a year for retail sales to launch in the state.

In 2020, Vermont became the 11th state to tax and regulate cannabis for adults. Two years later, sales figures are beginning to show the rewards. Adult-use cannabis sales officially launched in Vermont recently, with stores in three communities opening their doors to customers.

Under Vermont law, a portion of the excise tax revenue is allocated to fill any deficit in the control board’s budget. Of the excise tax revenue, 70% goes to the state general fund, and 30% goes towards substance abuse and prevention funds. Cannabis sales tax revenue is earmarked for after-school and summer learning programs.

Vermont’s adult-use cannabis industry took off with a bang. According to the Vermont Department of Taxes, Vermont cannabis stores sold $2.6 million worth of product in October, the first month of legal cannabis sales.

James Pepper, chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board, said that $2.1 to $2.4 million in excise taxes could be collected during the first nine months of cannabis sales. That translates to around $233,000 to $267,000 per month. “They look pretty much like our projections were accurate,” Pepper said.

Vermont legalized personal possession and cultivation of cannabis for adults back in 2018. The state legalized medical cannabis in 2004.

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