Students navigate new cannabis laws

Caroline Slack, Feature Editor

Recently, the laws on the books regarding cannabis in Vermont have evolved, loosening state regulations on pot. What remains unclear is how these laws have affected the lifestyle of UVM students.   

In January, Gov. Phil Scott signed Act 86 into law, legalizing recreational cannabis use and the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults ages 21 and over in Vermont. The law also allows Vermonters to grow up to two mature plants and four immature plants per housing unit, grown outside of public view and in a secure, enclosed space.

The Cynic reported in July that while it is legal to grow and possess cannabis, it is still illegal to sell it in the state. The law went into effect July 1.

Junior Shaelagh Nelson said she associates students who are earthy and like to play guitars with cannabis culture on campus.

Nelson feels that cannabis has always been a large part of UVM culture. “People are pretty comfortable with it,” she said. “Even kids from other schools know about it. It has a big reputation.”

Although the substance was illegal in the state until two months ago, students still used it prior to legalization. Perhaps most notably, every April 20, hundreds of students gather on the Redstone green and light up together for 4/20 — a yearly celebration of the culture surrounding social cannabis use.

As the Cynic reported in July, pot remains illegal on campus, and students, regardless of age, are not allowed to possess cannabis on UVM property.

Still, with many upperclassmen living off campus and reaching the legal age to smoke in Vermont, many students at UVM are now able to indulge in this once-illegal staple of UVM culture.  

Some students of legal age are taking advantage of the law off campus. “Yep, I smoke weed,” said senior Wyatt Garratt, who turned 21 in July shortly after Act 86 went into effect.

While he personally enjoys the ability to use this substance safely and legally, he doubts that the change in law is going to attract new people to the drug.

“I feel like more people are going to grow [cannabis plants] if anything,” Garratt said. “But those will probably be people that already smoked before. I doubt many Burlington locals will start smoking because of legislation.”

Junior Yael Dormont is 21, but hasn’t seen a change in the way her peers and community treat weed given the current law.

“I think the culture would change if there were dispensaries,” she said.

Nelson isn’t sure much has changed locally since July, she said.

“I haven’t even heard of people talking about it being legal, but I think a lot of it has to do with the age being 21,” she said. “I mostly hang out with other students my age who aren’t 21 yet.”  

Junior Alison Forman-Katz reiterated this point, saying that she doesn’t see much difference in the way her peers get their cannabis fix, because even those who are of age to legally possess and consume pot usually break the law by buying from dealers.

“Not much has changed because it’s still illegal to buy and sell,” she said.“Also, if you’re under 21, [the new law] doesn’t really affect you.”

This era of legal recreational cannabis in Vermont is just beginning. Only time will tell if the culture around cannabis will change dramatically, or if new laws will expand legal access or allow sale.

For now, it seems that it’s business as usual for Vermonters who enjoy a casual smoke.