Cannabis and Our Community

Published on November 22nd, 2020 | by Burlington Partnership


Cannabis and Our Community – With Legal Cannabis Sales and Advertising Coming How Can We Still Reduce Use and Support a Healthy Burlington? 

By now you’ve probably heard that in October of this year, the VT legislature passed a bill that will allow commercial growing, distribution, sales, and advertising of cannabis in Vermont. Governor Phil Scott allowed the bill to pass into law without his signature. You can read his letter to the legislature and recommendations for moving forward here. The bill, S.54, has now become Act 164 and creates a process to set up issuing initial retail sales licenses by May 2022 and full retail sales licenses by October 2022.

I’ll admit, I was disappointed by this decision, particularly because it came during a pandemic when the impact of using anything that damages the lungs carries such increased risk of coronavirus infection and health consequences. Vermont communities have some of the highest rates of marijuana and alcohol use in our nation and our organization’s job of working to prevent youth use and support healthy communities just got harder. 

Across the globe, legal substances are used at much higher rates and so create significantly greater social and economic costs to communities (particularly when there is a commercial market that is allowed to advertise and promote). Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol are powerful industries in our state that have been hard to regulate. However, one thing this bill does allow is for local communities to choose whether or not to “opt-in” to allow sales in their city as well as other opportunities for local controls to reduce the negative impact on kids. It is time now for Burlington to make thoughtful choices about how to put thriving kids and communities first related to legal cannabis sales.

In the coming months our organization will be working with other prevention partners locally and across the state to bring information to the community about the marijuana available today, the implications of Act 164, and evidence-based strategies for prioritizing health and wellness over industry profits. Many of the places that started legal sales before VT have learned lessons we can use to help Burlington take a smart and safe path forward. Keep your eyes out for resources coming soon from us that will help us all understand the new law and ways we can work together to support prevention. 

The most effective way to help prevent the consequences of allowing increased access to cannabis is for Burlington to opt-out of allowing commercial sales in the City. However, if Burlington does choose to opt-in to sales, the recommendations below are based on the best science available to help reduce youth use and high-risk use for adults. Either way, there is no rush to decide! We urge Burlington to use this next year to engage in thoughtful and informed examination of the long-term impact of all the options available. This is a significant change, with serious considerations for the health and safety of our community. We recommend:

  • Limit potency and prohibit kid-friendly products
  • Create marijuana-free retail zones near schools and other places kids gather 
  • Prohibit use in public and at family-friendly events
  • Probit any adult-only advertising in locations accessed by kids
  • Require clear warnings and disclosures on labels and at stores – including  information about the health risks of use
  • Require child-resistant packaging
  • Support education and prevention funding for youth, adults, and pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Collect data to help monitor and respond to impacts on kids and increases in use rates

BPHC looks forward to working with the Burlington community to support prevention-focused policy. Reach out to us here if you have questions or want to get involved with our efforts. 


Mariah Sanderson, Coalition Director 

These are highly complex issues and it is important for everyone to become educated about the marijuana available today and how it is impacting communities, particularly our youth. How will you help support good information and education about marijuana in our community? 

  • Will you share information from VT’s Let’s Talk Cannabis campaign for adults or ParentUP to help parents of tweens and teens prevent youth marijuana and other substance use?
  • Will you read VT’s Marijuana Legalization Health Impact Assessment? In 2015-16, at the request of the legislature, the Vermont Department of Health worked with a team of people to do a data-driven examination of the health impact of marijuana legalization on our state. The report outlines the potential public health impacts and considerations for marijuana legalization. As far as we know, Vermont is still the only state to have done an HIA related to this issue.

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