Two influential Colchester leaders had a seat at the table during the long-awaited first meeting of Gov. Phil Scott’s Marijuana Advisory Commission last Thursday, each prepared to lend their industry-specific expertise.
Colchester Police Chief Jen Morrison and superintendent Amy Minor were tapped to serve on two of the three subcommittees within the commission, which Scott created with an executive order earlier this year after vetoing a bill that provided a path to legalized marijuana use.
The Vermont Principals’ Association and Vermont Superintendents’ Association jointly nominated Minor to the education and prevention subcommittee. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns gave their spot on the roadway safety subcommittee to Morrison. The third group will study taxation and regulation, according to the executive order.
In an interview after the meeting, Morrison said the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, of which she serves as president, continues to maintain its “very firm ‘not yet’” stance on marijuana legalization. Still, she said the group’s approach has “softened” to some extent.
“If it is inevitable because the legislature deems it inevitable, then we want to be at the table,” Morrison said.
She said she could already shed light on the local impacts of a statewide requirement at the prior day’s introductory meeting, when some suggested increasing the number of drug recognition experts in Vermont.
“That is absolutely an important piece of this, but I am able to bring the perspective that that is not a magic bullet and there is a real cost,” Morrison said. “Their training is expensive, and they are away from us. We have to backfill for them.”
Minor was also sought for her first-hand insights, both as a superintendent and recent high school principal. Physicians, attorneys and a substance abuse counselor, among others, round out her subcommittee, she said.
Keeping close tabs on the legislature’s moves earlier this year, she said she was prepared to adapt to either outcome at the district level. Now, Minor is adamant any personal opinions on legalization will not affect her contribution to the commission.
“I don’t have a role in saying what should the state of Vermont do, should we legalize or not,” Minor said. “I have no decision making power there. My role is around what is going to work best with youth to ensure that they continue to not use substances.”
On Thursday, Minor said she confirmed for her peers the validity of data from the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior survey, which suggests marijuana use among school age adults is declining and lower now than it was 10 or 15 years ago.
The challenge, she said, will be keeping that statistic low if and when the drug becomes legal.
Her subcommittee agreed to sift through a variety of texts specifically focusing research on how legalization has played out in Colorado, Washington and Iceland, Minor said.
Minor said it was clear most on her committee believe any educational counter-marketing the state applies in Vermont should ideally be in place “well in advance” of legalization going into effect. A minimum of 18 months, she said, is needed to reach those in the key demographic.
And while many might consider “at-risk youth” to be largely made up of high school students, Minor said the group plans to focus efforts on kids from pre-kindergarten all the way through age 25.
“Our youngest children are really aware of the behaviors that their parents are engaging in,” Minor said. “We want to make positive messaging to our adults because the behaviors that they engage in as adults is going to seen as something that’s OK by a child.”
Likewise, Minor said those in the 18 to 25-year-old bracket are especially vulnerable and likely have a harder time accessing support because they’re not in a consistent school setting.
The sub-group also recognized many of its talking points were likely being echoed in discussions about the opiate epidemic, Minor said, and will make a conscious effort not to duplicate work or directly compete for resources.
Both Morrison and Minor said they were appreciative of efforts to bring a throng of industry experts into a discussion that will undoubtedly have a wide-reaching influence across the region.
“You can be thinking that you’re working on a good [solution], but you’re creating unnecessary pressures on another place,” Morrison said. “There is tremendous impact at the local level.”