VT: Are State Ed Policies Up To Speed On Legal Pot

Photo Credit: WCAX3

Marijuana becomes legal in less than a month, and some parents are asking if schools are prepared for the change.

“I am very nervous as a mom with young kids and older kids,” said Melissa O’Brien, the mother of two children who attend Frederick Tuttle Middle school in South Burlington.

O’Brien says she’s worried how the upcoming school year will have an impact on kids come July 1.

“We are not prepared for this,” she said.

Vermonters will soon be able to legally smoke and grow marijuana in their homes. O’Brien fears more teens will start using the drug.

“If your parents are smoking the legalized amount of marijuana in their home, why aren’t they going to do it?” she said.

“It’s going to be a tough transition for everyone,” said Joe Doherty, a health teacher at Rutland High School.

He says come fall, the school will have a new approach to marijuana education.

“More conversation, a lot of reinforcing and backtracking, and making sure certain points are hitting home,” he said.

Doherty says some of those points include reminding kids of the risks marijuana poses on a teenage brain, addiction and how pot can lead to other drugs.

“With alcohol and tobacco, even for that matter, legal doesn’t always mean safe,” Doherty said.

It will still be illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to smoke, but national data shows that isn’t stopping teenagers. The Vermont Department of Health says more Vermonters ages 12 and up are using marijuana compared to the country overall.

Both parents and educators worry that number will rise once recreational weed becomes legal.

“I’ve got a feeling, it will get worse,” said Dick Hough, the grandfather of a student.

But many kids say they aren’t convinced.

“Anyone who wants to do it, would already do it,” said Luke LeClair, a Burlington High School student.

Many teens say current programs in school discouraging smoking have failed to get through to their peers.

“You can’t expect to tell a kid not to do something and expect them not to try it,” said Minelle Sarfoadu, an incoming South Burlington High School student.

Doherty is hoping his discussion-based approach will stick with his students and allow kids to be open about what’s going on at home.

“We work on refusal skills and being able to say no,” he said.

But parent Melissa O’Brien thinks more can be done.

“There needs to be support for the educators that are teaching our children. There has to be new dialogue because this is coming in a month,” she said.

Other than Rutland, most schools we spoke with have no plans to alter existing education plans when it comes to pot. Vermont Agency of Education officials say, for the time being, they are also encouraging schools to use existing evidence-based curricula.