Weed: The New Law & Teens

If students came to school high, Virginia Burley could tell. They might be a little chattier or more giggly than normal. She could teach them something one day and they would forget the next day. If a student was high she would simply send them home. 

This was back in the 70’s, when Burley taught at the Plainfield Adult Learning Center, in the inner city of Plainfield, New Jersey. Now she works for SAM, Safe Approaches to Marijuana, in Montpelier, VT. 

Burley is one Vermonter who did not support the new law, passed on July 1st 2018, that removes all the state penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana. A lot of the debate has been about whether to tax marijuana and the roadside driving test. But how has the new law been affecting teens?

Some people say that legalization has made a notable change on the culture around teens. Virginia Burley believes that legalizing marijuana gave more kids more access to marijuana

“If it is in a home the parents are using it, they are supposed to keep it in a locked place,” Burley said, “but some people may not.” 

Vermonters are now legally able to have up to two mature and four immature plants. There are no limits on how much marijuana someone can carry over from year to year or how much someone can keep. With no limits, people can have a lot of pot in their house. This could also raise the risk of the kids getting into it.

Sage Hannon, a senior at U-32, shares some of the same concerns as Burley. “More people now have more access to it, so kids can get it from their parents or get it from older kids,” Sage says. “Now more younger kids will have access to it.” 

“If people’s parents have it and they are growing it,” Sage said, “ kids could easily take it from them.”

Emily Hunt, a sophomore at U32, has noticed that more people grow weed since the law passed

“My uncle grows weed now, and he didn’t before. It is in front of his house, it’s embarrassing,” Emily said. “Whenever I go there, there are these big bushy pot plants, by the driveway.”

Harmon O’ Hanlon, another sophomore at U-32, feels that with marijuana being legalized, people have more of it. 

“I was at my friend’s dad’s house and we opened this big metal toolbox that didn’t have a lock on it, which it normally does,” Harmon said. “There was a full-on gallon ziplock bag full of weed in it.” 

Not everyone sees much impact from legalization. Gary Arleth, a senior at U-32, said that the new laws have made very little change if any at all.

“If an adult is growing a plant and lets their kid smoke the weed that they grew,” Arleth said, “I believe that they let them smoke before.”

Before the new law, people were already growing pot. Noah McLane, a junior at U-32, had found some pot plants growing in his friend’s house when he was younger, but thought they were regular plants.

In elementary school, Noah remembers he would go to a friend’s house where “her parents would never let us go downstairs in the basement.”

 “One day a cat went down there, and I decided to follow the cat down there,” Noah said. “There were lots of these plants under these lights, these very weird lights.”

Marijuana has always been a big part of students’ lives, and the percentages of students that said they use marijuana are significantly lower from what they were 14 years ago. The overall percentage of students that had used marijuana grades 8-12 in 1999 was around 47%., compared to 35% in 2017.

Sherry Lewton, U-32’s substance abuse counselor, believes that we don’t have enough information yet to see if anything has actually changed. “We haven’t seen the impact of it yet, because the law is still pretty new,” Lewton said. Lewton believes that kids are getting mixed messages. Now that it is legal kids think it is safe. Teachers are telling kids to be smart and be safe while marijuana is legal. “Teachers are always saying make good choices, your brain is still developing,” Lewton said. “Alcohol and marijuana are not good for the teenage brain.”

Gary Arleth said that since marijuana is legal now, he thinks people should start selling marijuana in stores. This means that marijuana would be more accessible. “It should be legal recreationally, just like drinking and smoking.” Arleth said “It’s your own right. You can do what you want.”

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