BRATTLEBORO—In between the voices at the Chamber breakfast on Sept. 5 excited about cannabis’ potential financial rewards, Cassandra Holloway asked for a moment of pause.
“How many people are concerned about marijuana coming into our community?” she asked.
Holloway, the executive director of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, reminded the audience that cannabis also comes with its share of risks, especially for young people, whose brains, due to a quirk of evolution, are more susceptible to the influence of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and, yes, marijuana.
“As we take this step, I would like you to bear in mind that we are already managing very steep risks in our community,” she said. “If we care about our downtown and our region, we will need to create a careful balance when it comes to marijuana between access and excess.”
Quoting statistics from the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and Vermont Department of Health, Holloway shared data that point to local youth already using marijuana.
• At Brattleboro Union High School, 45 percent of students reported that they used marijuana.
• Some 44 percent of young adults ages 21–26 also reported using marijuana. Almost half of those reported using the substance 20 times or more in a month.
• Windham County is one of two counties with the highest marijuana use among high school students.
• Nationally, Vermont ranks fourth for the highest marijuana use among adults.
“So we do have a lot of excess use of marijuana in this community and are bringing a drug into a community where people are constantly debating if there are too many drugs in it,” she said.
In addition, a number of the kids are vaping marijuana, she said, a method of ingestion that has recently been implicated in at least six deaths nationally.
According to Holloway, when young people use marijuana, their risk “goes up” for harmful behaviors, including depression, suicide attempts, unprotected sex while under the influence, and self harm.
“We are not doing enough to counter what we’re doing when we’re taking about ‘legalizing,’ and ‘medicinal,’ and ‘recreational,’ and all these messages we’re giving to out kids,” she said.
How a community organizes its environment around marijuana tells young people what a community thinks about the substance and what defines acceptable behavior, she said, citing some examples: the number of marijuana-related businesses and their locations, the prevalence of promotional signage, and the number of community events featuring marijuana.
Holloway stressed that the community should take the same energy — and, ideally, funding — that it puts toward growing the marijuana industry and redirect it toward delaying kids’ use of substances until they reach adulthood.
Holloway said that the county’s prevention coalitions work on all fronts against substance misuse by youth using evidence-based practices to “reduce, prevent, and minimize impact to our more vulnerable communities.” She encouraged the audience members to use the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition as a resource.
Other Windham County nonprofits working to limit youth access to alcohol and other drugs include the Deerfield Valley Community Partnership in Wilmington, Great Falls Connections in Bellows Falls, The Collaborative in Londonderry, and West River Valley Thrives in Townshend.
“We want to be part of this conversation,” she said.