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Vermont schools begin cannabis conversations as dispensaries spread

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HINESBURG, Vt. (WCAX) - Cannabis dispensaries are continuing to pop up on street corners across Vermont, with some areas like Chittenden County already hosting at least 10 stores. What effect does that have on Vermont students? We visited schools having conversations about cannabis and how they are navigating the new normal.

High school students are still being taught to say “no” to underage cannabis use, but the legal market has changed the landscape of educating students on legal weed.

“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,” said Matt Meunier, a student assistance programming counselor at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg.

He says despite the various ways to consume, the frequency in which students are getting caught isn’t necessarily increasing. The cannabis conversations about habits are continuing, making clear that cannabis can impact the developing brain.

“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.

Those kinds of conversations are happening in classrooms all over Vermont. A 2021 statewide Department of Health Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows nearly one-third of high school students have tried marijuana. It also increases by grade, going from 16% of students statewide in grade 9, to 46% by grade 12. It’s important to note this is data from before retail cannabis became legal.

“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 says Vermont has the second-highest percentage of people nationwide aged 12 to 17 reporting using cannabis in the past 30 days.

“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.

She says the messaging from the department remains the same and similar to what schools are saying, advocating against underage use and maintaining healthy habits when users are of age.

“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.


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