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Highs and Lows: The Potential Pitfalls of Party Drugs 


For many students, college is a time for experimentation — with new friends, activities, sexual partners and substances, both legal and otherwise. Vermont's famously progressive persona includes a certain laissez-faire attitude about altered states. Nevertheless, local colleges, cops and civic leaders are increasingly seeing links between substance abuse and more serious offenses, including retail theft, burglaries, sexual assault and, obviously, drunken and drugged driving.

Are we trying to harsh your mellow? Hardly. But if you choose to use, be informed, sensible and know your limits — and those of the law. FYI, you can find out more by reading the Vermont Statutes online. Title 18, Chapter 84 outlines which drugs are illegal and the potential penalties they can carry.


The legal age for consuming Vermont's only legal intoxicant is 21, despite ample evidence suggesting otherwise during your first few weeks of college. Under Vermont's impaired-driver law, it's a crime to get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. In Vermont, a driver pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) will be asked to take a blood or breath test to determine his or her BAC. Can you refuse? Yes, but your license will be suspended instantly, and you'll likely face even more severe punishment — from both a judge and your insurance company. Simply put, a cab ride home costs far less than a one-hour consultation with a DUI defense lawyer, never mind the fines and legal expenses that come with a DUI conviction (about $10K, based on the national average).


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As of July 1, 2013, Vermont decriminalized possession of small amounts (i.e., less than 1 ounce) of weed and 5 grams of hash, replacing criminal penalties with civil fines that won't appear on a criminal background check when you apply for your first "real" job out of college. That's the good news.

The bad news: While the Green Mountain State didn't earn that moniker solely for its lush, verdant hillsides, not everyone — RAs, landlords, campus police — is equally tolerant of the pungent fog. A first-time offense for possessing less than one ounce can net you a $200 fine, $300 for the second and $500 for a chronic inability to find discreet places to light up.

Equally important, the 2013 decrim law did nothing to alter Vermont's impaired-driving law. Police departments throughout the state now employ Drug Recognition Experts — cops trained to spot drugged drivers. Poker face or not, your pupils, blood pressure and involuntary eye movements will narc you out every time. (See: Call a cab, above.)


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Coke isn't as big as it once was on Vermont college campuses. In fact, our sources (read: recovering student addicts) report seeing more students snorting Adderall than cocaine, which is also illegal if you don't have a prescription.

Coke possession can get you a $2,000 fine and a year in prison. Selling it nets as much as three years behind bars and a $75,000 fine. Move a mere 2.5 grams and you can face serious time, including as much as a decade in the hole and a $250,000 fine — or the cash equivalent of four years of tuition, plus a master's degree.


Just because psychedelics are measured in micrograms (1/1,000,000th of a gram) doesn't make the penalties for their sale or possession miniscule. Possession of a sheet of LSD can result in a $2,000 fine and up to a year in jail, where you'll definitely see colors, man. Well, orange mostly.

Ecstasy, Molly and other synthetic trips

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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction has identified an unprecedented 233 new recreational drugs in the last five years. So, what's the designer drugscape like in Vermont? In August 2013, Rutland Emergency Medical Services responded to six people who'd overdosed on gel tabs containing a near-lethal mix of ecstasy, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. Several weeks later, four college-age partiers at concerts and nightclubs on the East Coast died after ingesting substances that included ecstasy. While local police admit privately that they don't devote much time or resources to ferreting out individual users, dealing is another story.


In Vermont, smack is back in a big, bold way. Perhaps you saw the Rolling Stone parody of the classic Vermont maple syrup can? It featured a bearded, flannel-clad maple sugar maker mainlining on a tree stump. Ouch.

Here's the straight dope on heroin: Once you've developed a $2,000-per-week opiate habit — and yes, those OxyContins and Percocets handed out at off-campus parties differ from heroin in form, not substance — criminal penalties will be the least of your worries. Of far bigger concern will be fending off dope sickness and trying to get your name on one of Vermont's waiting lists for methadone or Suboxone treatment. It can take years. In the words of a local college student-turned addict: "Avoid heroin like the plague it's become."

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More by Ken Picard

About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.


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