- Sean Metcalf
Green Mountain staters have a saying: "I'm from Vermont, I do what I want." Nothing embodies that rhyming chestnut quite as well as the generally relaxed attitude toward cannabis here. Technically, recreational marijuana becomes legal when Act 86 goes into effect on Sunday, July 1. But Vermonters have long had a spot in their hearts — and in their cargo shorts and plastic baggies and little tin canisters — for weed.
How do we know? Because, duh. But also: We asked.
Three years ago, Seven Days conducted its first-ever Weeders Survey. Though admittedly unscientific, the poll offered some choice nuggets about our readers' habits and feelings concerning cannabis. For example, a preponderance of respondents claimed that kind bud helped them de-stress, aided creativity and made them, er, kinda hungry.
Hey, we never said the results were terribly surprising — the data roughly squared with the perception that most Vermonters are pretty chill about cheeba. After all, cannabis has been decriminalized in the state since 2013, and medical marijuana has been legal since 2004.
Still, legalization (see sidebar for what that actually means) is a BFD. Act 86 marks a paradigm shift when it comes to marijuana in Vermont.
With that in mind, we thought it high time to run the Weeders Survey again. So, last month we took an updated poll to find out what's changed — if anything — since 2015 regarding readers' relationship to reefer and how legalization might affect those views and habits.
Like the previous survey, the current edition is not exactly scientific. But once again, the responses were illuminating and entertaining. Here's what we found.
Overall, Seven Days collected 793 responses to the 2018 Weeders Survey. Of those, 567 respondents answered all 50 questions, which is what the following analysis is based on. That's a precipitous drop in response rate from 2015, when more than 2,000 people responded and we received 1,704 completed surveys. What gives? Perhaps with legalization on the horizon, readers simply felt less urgency to weigh in on weed. Or maybe they just forgot?
While cannabis users represent a diverse array of the population, in 2015 the "typical" user in Vermont was a young-ish, left-leaning, college-educated homeowner who was either married or in a committed relationship. In 2018, the typical marijuana user in Vermont is ... a young-ish, left-leaning, college-educated homeowner who is either married or in a committed relationship.
Forty-five percent of 2018 respondents are between the ages of 21 and 40; about 40 percent are between 41 and 60. Seventeen percent are near or past retirement age — 61 to 80. A scant 2 percent of Weeders are under 21.
The vast majority of respondents — 62 percent — are homeowners. Slightly less than a third are renters, while the remainder still live with the 'rents. One percent of respondents live in either student or government-subsidized housing — where, it should be noted, weed consumption will remain a no-no after July 1.
One respondent lives in a retirement home, while another checked "Homeless/transitional/uncertain."
As in 2015, the majority of Weeders in 2018 are well educated: 60 percent have at least a bachelor's degree. They still report being coupled up, too. More than two-thirds are married, in a committed relationship, coupled but unmarried, or widowed. Twenty percent are single, 6 percent are divorced. Those percentages were roughly the same in the previous survey.
Also, as in 2015, the largest number of respondents hails from Chittenden County — close to 47 percent. Washington County is next with 11 percent, followed by Franklin (6 percent), Addison (5 percent) and Lamoille (5 percent) counties. More than 5 percent of respondents reside outside of Vermont, up from 3 percent in 2015.
One significant change: Ten percent of Weeders this year are registered medical marijuana patients in Vermont, compared with just 2 percent of 2015 respondents.
Predictably, almost exactly half of our Weeders lean left, identifying with either Democrats or Progressives. That was roughly true in 2015, too. But within that 50 percent is a subtle and perhaps telling shift from three years ago when politics were, uh, a little different.
In 2015, Dems claimed 40 percent of Weeders, but they make up only 32 percent in 2018. Progs, meanwhile, are up from 14 percent in 2015 to 20 now. Independents gained steam, too: 36 percent in 2018, compared to 30 in 2015. A Bernie bump?
Republicans and Libertarians each comprise 3 percent of respondents, which collectively equals the 6 percent of Weeders who checked "Other." That category includes several varietals of socialists, a smattering of anarchists, a cofounder of the Liberty Union Party and a person who follows "the demon code."
A full 75 percent of Weeders first smoked pot when they were between 13 and 20. Ten percent started in their twenties or thirties. Just four people claim to have started in their forties or fifties, and one especially late bloomer finally stopped passing on grass at seventysomething. Somewhat alarmingly, 24 people say they took their first toke at 12 or younger.
Smoke Weed Every Day
Nearly four in 10 Weeders partake daily, with another quarter of respondents reporting that they do so "most days." Of those daily or semi-daily users, 90 percent started smoking before their 21st birthday, including 13 of the 24 who did so prior to their teen years.
Before you write those folks off as slackers, know that only about 5 percent claim to smoke mainly before or during work or school. Twelve percent do prefer to wake and bake. Perhaps they work the late shift? Or maybe they are, in fact, bakers? Either way, an overwhelming number of Weeders who toke daily or close to it prefer to do so after work/school or late at night — 82 percent.
Smoking weed in public will remain illegal after July 1. But the law hasn't stopped many users from doing so. Eighty-one percent of all Weeders and 86 percent of daily users claim to have lit up in public.
Daily users in particular cite extremely positive effects on stress, overall mental health, creativity, sleep habits and their sex lives, among other benefits. Just about the only negative effect, according to virtually all Weeders, is a decline in motor skills.
That's a bit concerning, given that 79 percent of daily users (and 75 percent of Weeders overall) admit to having driven a car or truck while high. Interestingly, only 41 percent of all respondents cop to riding a bicycle stoned, while 28 percent admit to baked boating. And four people say they've flown an aircraft, er, sky high.
Put That in Your Pipe
As for how Weeders consume their cannabis, the old standbys still reign supreme. By far, smoking a bowl or a joint are the most preferred methods of ingestion. That's true across every demographic but one: The under-21 crowd is more partial to bong hits. Ah, youth.
Know Your Stuff
In addition to their college degrees, Weeders are pretty well educated about cannabis, too. Three quarters can tell you the difference between Indica and Sativa strains of marijuana (the former offers a more relaxing high; the latter is a bit more invigorating).
Forty-five percent can tell you exactly what their preferred strain of weed is called. Gorilla Glue, Sour Diesel, Pineapple Express and Girl Scout Cookies were particularly popular responses.
The locavore movement isn't just for chicken and kale anymore. Thirty-five percent of Weeders say their marijuana is grown in Vermont; another 28 percent claim they get both in-state and out-of-state varietals. Only 25 percent of respondents didn't know where their herb is grown. Speaking of which...
- Sean Metcalf
Only 18 percent of Weeders currently grow their own weed. A mere 5 percent do so legally in Vermont with a medical marijuana card. Another 3 percent say it's legal to grow where they live. Twelve percent say they've tried and failed to grow cannabis.
Act 86 allows for the cultivation of up to two mature pot plants and four immature plants per household. Fifty percent of survey respondents say they'll grow grass after July 1, while another 35 percent say they're unsure about that. Only 15 percent flatly say they won't.
But here's the rub: The new legislation doesn't identify how to legally procure seeds or starter plants. As for how Weeders plan to do so, responses ranged from "I have no idea" to shopping online to sharing among friends to "None ya fuckin' business." Duly noted.
Changes in Attitude
Recreational kush has been kosher for years in Colorado and Washington. Advocates in both states argue that legalization doesn't lead to higher rates of consumption. The theory is that people who smoke legal weed now are pretty much the same folks who were doing it illegally before.
Our survey didn't ask respondents if they would start smoking legal reefer. Instead, we asked what effect legalization would have on current users' habit. The result? Eighty-nine percent of Weeders say they plan to puff "about the same" amount after July 1 as before. Only 10 percent say they'll use more. Seventy-three percent of respondents say that weed's illegal status wasn't a deterrent to their previous usage.
Nor do Vermonters tend to worry about who knows that they smoke. In 2015, roughly half of Weeders said their family definitely knew, and about a quarter said they had told close family members. Those numbers pretty much held up in 2018. Ditto the percentages of folks whose boss or coworkers know.
As for whether Weeders will be more or less open about their usage after July 1, 58 percent say they won't advertise it but won't hide it, either. A little more than a quarter say they've never cared who knows, and 15 percent plan to remain in the closet even when weed is legal.
Seven respondents said they're getting a pot-leaf tattoo after July 1. We'd like pictures, please.
Interestingly, while the vast majority of parents are willing to talk to their kids about marijuana, comparatively few are willing to use it in front of them — legal or not. One third of the 281 Weeders with kids currently toke in their presence. Only five of the 188 parents who don't partake in front of their kids say they will once weed is legal. Another 33 say they will once their kids are older.
While Act 86 makes it legal for adults 21 and older to possess and consume pot, it will remain illegal to purchase it in Vermont. That wrinkle doesn't sit well with our Weeders, nearly 90 percent of whom think that marijuana should be commercially available in Vermont.
It's not surprising, then, that nearly same number of respondents agree that Act 86 is "a step in the right direction but kind of half-assed without commercial legalization."
One answer that might be a surprise: Only 22 percent of Weeders said they were high while taking the survey.
Burning Questions on Act 86
Vermont's cannabis legislation has left a lot of folks scratching their heads about what, exactly, the new law means. Below, we try to answer some of the most common queries about Act 86.
I'll be able to buy weed at every corner store and gas station now, right?
Nope. When the legislature legalized marijuana earlier this year, the law — Act 86 — included no provision for setting up a taxed-and-regulated retail marketplace. Though pro-pot activists predict it'll inevitably happen, for now Vermont's cannabis consumers must grow their own or buy it on the black market. That said, while selling weed is still illegal, gifting it is not.
How and where can I grow my own pot plants?
Act 86 allows Vermonters to cultivate up to two mature (i.e., flowering and budding) plants and up to four immature plants per household. However, the plants must be kept in a private and secured enclosure away from the prying eyes and fingers of children and bored teenagers. For renters, home cultivation is fine provided you get written permission from the property owner, who may forbid it in a lease agreement. Generally, college dorms and public housing facilities do not allow it. In short, before you invest in expensive grow equipment, be smart and ask first.
How much weed can I have on hand at a time? A dime bag? An ounce? A pound?
Whoa! Slow your joint roll, Cheech. Act 86 allows adults 21 and older to possess no more than one ounce of marijuana, or five grams of hashish, at a time, not including plants that are still in cultivation. (Why does the statute refer to English units of measurement for pot and metric units for hash? Because that's how those products are typically sold on the black market.) Getting nabbed for smoking a doobie in public is a mere civil violation, not a criminal offense, and can result in a fine of no more than $100 the first time. A first offense for exceeding the one-ounce/five-gram limit can score you up to a $500 fine and six months in the slammer, with fines and jails times increasing for subsequent offenses.
OK, so where can I get high?
You cannot smoke cannabis in a car. You cannot smoke it in a bar. In fact, you cannot smoke it in any "public place," which includes streets, alleys, parks, sidewalks, public buildings or wherever tobacco use is legally prohibited. In short, about the only spot where you can get high is in a private dwelling. That said, you can be high just about anywhere, with a few important exceptions. Which brings us to...
Can I still get busted for weed in Vermont?
Yes! In addition to the possession limits on cannabis plants and product, weed is still illegal under federal law, which means that the possession, sale or consumption in places owned or overseen by the feds — airports, military bases, federal offices, courthouses, post offices, prisons — is still a no-no. Also, if you're caught driving while high — most Vermont police departments now employ drug-recognition experts who are trained to spot your buzz and can seriously harsh your mellow — the legal consequences are equivalent to getting caught driving drunk. Ditto for operating a snowmobile, boat, ATV, rider mower or any other motorized vehicle while stoned.