On November 8th, seven states voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, including Maine and Massachusetts. While legalization efforts in Vermont are currently on pause, Burlington High School is still feeling the effects of decreased stigmatization.
The 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 55% of Burlington High School seniors have smoked marijuana, compared to the 2015 survey which found that number fell to 43%.
When it comes to use in the past month though, BHS seniors are up 6% from the national average.
Margo Austin is the student assistance counselor, and is the staff coordinator for the afterschool club Above The Influence. She believes that the average high schooler underestimates the negative health impact marijuana can have. “Perception of harm is not accurate to the science. It is more harmful than the average person thinks,” Austin told The Register in an interview earlier this year.
Marijuana use in high school has spiked within the past decade, both state and nation wide. The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) believes this to be in part caused by a decreased perception of harm. In 2007, 43% of Vermont students believed it was harmful to their health to use marijuana, versus 29% of students in 2015 who were asked the same question.
The NIDA warns students of the potential side effects of marijuana use, which include reduced school performance, potential for impaired driving, and its potential to be a gateway drug, although the former has been subject to much debate in the past years.
Surprisingly, students have not noticed a change in the availability of the drug, even after it was decriminalized in Vermont in 2013. The percentage of students who said it is easy to obtain marijuana stayed at 62% between 2007 and 2015.
Alphonso is a student at BHS. We have changed his name to protect their identity, along with the rest of the students in this article. Alphonso says he has smoked marijuana within the past 30 days. “I smoke marijuana because it is fun,” he said
Alphonso knows that smoking is bad, but he does it anyway. “I don’t think it’s as detrimental to my health as some people make it out to be,” he said. “People have vilified it using facts that aren’t really true, or facts that aren’t really representative of the truth.”
Ivy is a student who does not smoke marijuana. “All my friends regularly smoke pot, and I don’t like that. I also know that I’ll get addicted to it very easily,” she said. “People have the freedom to make their own life decisions, and you shouldn’t get in the way of that.”
Freddy and Elsa were interviewed together. When asked how marijuana affects school work, Freddy said, “Whenever I smoke a lot of weed, my grades go up.”
While pot may boost Freddy’s grades, studies have conclusively found that marijuana use is associated with reduced educational attainment.
Elsa added, “Adults think that you’re like a bad kid. They just say it’s bad because it’s against the law, but they don’t think about why it’s actually bad.”