RAND Report: Considering Marijuana Legalization: Insights for Vermont and Other Jurisdictions



Vermont and Teen Marijuana Usage

Out of all the states in the U.S., tiny Vermont has one of the highest rates of teen marijuana use. Proponents of legalization say that shows how poorly prohibition of marijuana has worked. As in so many other areas, that view looks at a single moment’s worth of data, ignoring the complex history of marijuana use in Vermont.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which measures how many middle- and high-school students are doing risky things like using marijuana, has been given in Vermont’s schools for many years. When we look back along the timeline of marijuana use, we see that usage rates among teens have gone up and down more than once. In 1993, 19% of high school students reported using marijuana at least once in the 30 days before they took the survey. The usage rate went up to 35% in 1997. Then it leveled off, and began to drop, slowly at first (a single percentage point in 1999) but then faster, until it reached 25% in 2005.

Why the drop? Because prevention efforts on the national, state, and local level were working. Smoking rates dropped, drinking rates dropped, and marijuana rates dropped too,  as both adults and teens got the message about using mind-altering drugs  moderately or not at all. The decline was slow but steady across the board. Until 2005.

That year, while smoking and drinking rates continued to fall, marijuana use rates leveled off at 25%. And since then, they have been down to 24%, back up to 25%, and back down to 24% in 2013, the last time the survey was administered. In other words, there hasn’t been any significant change for eight years.

Why is that? Because pro-legalization advocates turned marijuana into medicine. It does, indeed, ease some symptoms in a few diseases, and the pro-pot lobby held this up as firm evidence that it was a cure-all. The message teens in Vermont got was that marijuana was perfectly safe for anyone to use. That it wasn’t addictive. That it made you a better driver. None of which is true, but those voices were drowned out.

We have years of data showing that, when teens think an illegal substance isn’t harmful, more of them will start using it. That’s what has happened in Vermont. Our teen use rate is high when it would be lower and still going down, if the pro-pot lobby hadn’t put a halo over marijuana.

And one other point: Prohibition will always be a fact for teenagers. Their developing brains are primed to change, so drugs like marijuana hit them much harder than they hit adults. No law that allows people under 21 to use marijuana will ever pass in the Vermont legislature. The pro-legalization folks should keep both these points in mind when they try to white-wash marijuana. A good-sized share of our high use rate lies on their shoulders.




The Marijuana Series: NY Times Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Re “What Science Says About Marijuana” (editorial, July 31):

The measuring of marijuana’s addictive potential and consequences against our two most highly profitable, deadly and legal drugs — tobacco and alcohol — as a justification for its legalization seems to me to reflect a terrible cynicism about public health, and it distracts attention from the research findings.

Is it really acceptable for one out of every 10 marijuana users (among adolescents, nearly one of every five) to have a diagnosable disorder? The majority (two-thirds) of adolescent substance abuse treatment admissions involve marijuana as the primary disorder.

Other scientific facts need emphasis separate from their comparison to alcohol and tobacco. Regular marijuana use is associated with cognitive, educational and respiratory problems. It increases risk for other substance and psychiatric diagnoses. Scientific disagreement remains about marijuana as a “gateway” drug; it is not a myth that has been disproved.

Marijuana addiction and withdrawal are considered physical because this potent drug causes significant changes in the brain. Finally, the belief that marijuana addiction and health problems will be managed better by legalization and government regulation has no basis in science or history.

Decisions about the safety of our country’s youth should not be made exclusively in the court of public, political and media opinion. I hope the science of marijuana addiction will not be minimized or distorted in this polarizing debate.

New York, July 31, 2014

The writer is president and chief executive of CASAColumbia, which does research on addiction, and a professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School.


 November 10, 2014   


SAM-VT calls upon Legislature to utilize evidence-based facts  


Montpelier, Vt.  — A group of concerned Vermonters announced today the formation of SAM- VT, a grassroots coalition opposing the legalization of marijuana.

SAM-VT is a statewide coalition of parents, grandparents, young adults, senior citizens and other concerned Vermonters.The members represent diverse backgrounds including drug &alcohol prevention, youth services, education, law enforcement, mental health and business leaders who agree that marijuana legalization poses a threat to Vermont’s health, economy, youth, education, highway safety and work force.

“The evidence is mounting that marijuana is addictive and harmful to the users and especially harmful to adolescents,” said Debby Haskins, executive director of the coalition.

Haskins said emerging science shows that marijuana use is linked not only with addiction, but also with increased highway safety crashes, IQ loss, and poor academic and job performance.   She said that daily users have a 60percent lower chance of graduating from high school.

“That evidence alone should make us concerned – not to mention the significant effects on the developing brain – up to age 25.”

SAM-VT is calling upon on Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont General Assembly to delay consideration of pot legalization this legislative session, and focus instead on budget, education and other health care priorities.

The coalition has contracted with Ellis Mills Public Affairs to help manage its campaign.

“Why would we legalize another mind-altering drug in the midst of an opiate epidemic?” Haskins said.   “There is too much to learn about marijuana before we can safely legalize another mind altering drug.’’

Mary Alice McKenzie, a coalition member and executive director of the Burlington Boys & Girls Club, said: “Vermont needs to determine public health policy by evidence-based scientific inquiry, not by politics or personal anecdotes.”  She also said that for  “every $1 gained in alcohol and tobacco tax revenue, we lose $10 in social costs.  We are fooling ourselves to think marijuana legalization will solve our state’s fiscal worries.”

George Merkel, chief of police in Vergennes, president of the Vermont Police Chief’s Association and SAM-VT member cited statistics showing that there has been an increase in fatal traffic accidents involving drivers under the influence of marijuana. He said those car crashes jumped in Colorado from 4.1 percent to 10 percent of all crashes since legalization in that state.

The coalition plans to educate Vermonters around such issues as:



  • Legalization sends the wrong message that marijuana is safe.
  • Nearly 10% of those who try marijuana become dependent on it — and the proportion rises to 1 in 6 for those who try it first as adolescents.
  • Regular marijuana use in adolescence nearly doubles the risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia or reporting psychotic symptoms in adulthood.5
  • The rate of emergency department visits involving marijuana has increased 52% since 2004.1


  • The cost of treating Vermonters for marijuana use disorders is more than $2 million.
  • Federal or state taxes levied on marijuana will not pay for the increased costs – highway accidents, mental health treatments, family social services, and lost wages – that would result from more use and abuse.
  • Marijuana legalization will usher in corporate interests that are difficult to control.  Big Tobacco will become Big Marijuana.


  • Employee marijuana is linked with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ comp claims, and job turnover. 17
  • The effects of marijuana on the human brain are widespread and chronic use interferes with the ability to do college work or hold down a technical job.



  • Increasing levels of marijuana use are consistently associated with lower grade point averages and poor school performance.
  • Marijuana use contributes to college students skipping more class, lower grades, dropping out of college and being unemployed after college. 
  • Regular marijuana use that begins in adolescence and continues throughout young adulthood produces intellectual impairment.



  • Young people equate “legal” with “safe”, which will lead to increased marijuana use.
  • Marijuana use in adolescents and young adults – up to age 25 – alters the development of the brain.
  • Persistent marijuana use during adolescence can cause a long-term 8-point drop in IQ, and harm attention span and memory.9
  • More teens in Vermont enter treatment for marijuana dependence than for all other illicit drugs combined.11


  • Marijuana smokers had a 10-fold increase in car crash injury. 15
  • Marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug detected in impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims. 
  • There is currently no reliable means to test at roadside for impairment caused by marijuana use. 

SAM-VT is encouraging Vermonters to get involved.

“If you care about Vermont’s health, economy, youth, education, highway safety and work force, you need to care about marijuana legalization,’’ Haskins said.

You can learn more, sign up for email alerts and make a donation at smartvermont.org or  like us on: 



The Colorado Experience with the Rocky Mountain High

WATCH: The Colorado Experience with the Rocky Mountain High
Channel 17/ Town Meeting TV

Judge Ben Joseph hosts a conversation with Annie Ramniceanu, Director of Pre-Trial Services, State of Vermont, and Ben Cort, University Hospital, Denver, Colorado on the implications of legalized marijuana.


Colorado Governor Says Voters Were ‘Reckless’ to Legalize Marijuana

co gov






Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a vocal opponent of his state’s legalization of marijuana, said Monday that recreational marijuana laws are “reckless.”

Hickenlooper was asked during a gubernatorial debate about other state governors who may be considering legalizing marijuana.

“I would view it as reckless before we see what the consequences are” in Colorado, Hickenlooper said, International Business Times reported. His Republican challenger, Bob Beauprez, agreed with the “reckless” characterization, according to Politico.