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It's no secret that many folks in the Green Mountain State enjoy their green bud. But we've only recently learned just how much.
Last year, Vermonters consumed a shit-ton of weed — an estimated 15 to 25 metric tons, according to the RAND Corporation. That nonprofit think tank was commissioned in 2014 by the Vermont legislature to study the consequences of legalizing marijuana in the state.
More data and fun
The resulting RAND report, which largely focused on the projected impacts on Vermont's criminal-justice system, substance-abuse treatment programs and state tax revenues, was informative and decidedly nonjudgmental. However, it told us little about the estimated 60,000 to 100,000 Vermonters who spent $125 million to $225 million last year getting high. We learned almost nothing about who they are, what they do and their relationship to America's most-talked-about cash crop.
So last month Seven Days invited readers to fill out an anonymous, 54-question survey about themselves and their weed use, including what they consume, how much they pay for it and why they get high. We hoped to get 1,000 responses over the two weeks the survey was available online and in print.
Within the first 24 hours, more than 500 readers had weighed in. In all, 2,059 people took the survey, 203 of whom no longer smoke pot or never tried it. Almost 300 responders filled out paper questionnaires and snail-mailed them to us, including two people whose return address read: "Governor Peter Shumlin." (Only one spelled his name right.)
Contrary to the lazy-stoner stereotype, most people who took the survey devoted a fair amount of time to it. Of those who did it online, more than half spent in excess of 10 minutes on it; more than a third spent 15-plus minutes. As for the 200-plus people who devoted more than a half-hour to it — including nearly two dozen people who burned away more than two hours — our suspicion is that they took frequent "breaks."
And what did we learn?
Although the survey was not scientific, the results are illuminating. Vermont's cannabis consumers are a diverse, creative and passionate bunch, with no shortage of opinions, accomplishments and anecdotes. Vermont's "typical pot smoker" — itself a somewhat misleading term, as many users prefer to vape, dab or eat their cannabis instead — is more likely to be over 40 than 20 or younger. He or she is generally a left-leaning, college-degreed homeowner who's either married or in a long-term, committed relationship.
Vermont's dank denizens typically consume at least once a week, generally in the evening, after school or work, often before playing music, tackling household chores, putting up drywall, watching a movie or whipping up a meal for friends and family. Many of those who say they get high before work or school do so to boost their productivity — and give examples of their altered-state accomplishments.
The vast majority of those surveyed do not "regularly" or even "occasionally" indulge in harder illicit drugs. In fact, more than nine in 10 say they've never done or no longer do LSD, cocaine, crystal meth, inhalants, prescription opiates or heroin.
Despite the fact that only 2 percent of respondents are on Vermont's medical marijuana registry, many report that they partake specifically to improve their physical and mental well-being. Vermonters say they use weed to sleep better, exercise more, and relieve their stress, anxiety and depression.
Nobody describes cannabis consumption as a vice, crutch or hard-to-kick habit. Most characterize it as a positive and beneficial element in their lives, enabling them to better appreciate nature, solve problems, tackle difficult or tedious tasks, relate to others and connect spiritually with the universe. Or, as a thirtysomething Lamoille County woman who smokes "most days" puts it: "It helps me keep things in perspective and remember what is truly important in life."
Lawmakers in Montpelier are doing the cost-benefit analysis as they wrestle with whether — or perhaps more accurately, how soon — Vermont should legalize marijuana. Surely the equation should also factor in what the state's cannabis consumers are experiencing and have been kind enough to pass along. Read on.
Nearly one-third of the people who took the Seven Days Weeders Survey are between 21 and 30 years old, numbers consistent with the findings of the RAND Corporation study. Nearly 64 percent are older than 30, and close to 40 percent are 40 and up.
Clearly, Vermont still has its share of Woodstock-era tokers. More than half of the 289 people who filled out paper surveys are older than 50; more than a quarter of them are 60-plus. Their preference for paper — writing on it, not rolling it — may reflect a lower rate of computer use or distrust in our ability to protect their online anonymity. Or both.
Where do they live? Mirroring Seven Days' readership, the single largest group of respondents (more than 55 percent) resides in Chittenden County, followed by Washington County (10 percent), Addison County (6 percent) and Franklin County (4 percent). Only 3 percent of respondents reside outside Vermont.
Equally predictable are their pot politics: Nearly 40 percent align with Democrats, 14 percent with Progressives; fewer than 5 percent are Republicans and 30 percent are independents. Among the 7 percent who identify as "other" are "Greens," "anarchists" and "socialists." (You in there, Bernie Sanders?)
Vermont's cannabis consumers are well schooled. Nearly two-thirds have at least a bachelor's degree, including more than 4 percent who've earned doctorates. Fewer than 8 percent didn't make it past high school.
Speaking of high school ... More than 40 percent of our respondents say they first tried pot during those years — typically by age 15 — while many others took it up during college. More than 90 percent had toked before their 21st birthday, compared to fewer than 7 percent who discovered the wonders of weed in their twenties. Only two respondents were older than 60 when they burned their first doobie.
It's fair to say that stoners who partake together stay together. The single largest group of responses (40 percent) came from people who are married. Adding in those who are unmarried but coupled, in serious relationships or widowed brings to more than 66 percent users who are or were in romantic relationships. In contrast, fewer than 6 percent report being divorced or separated.
Our (admittedly unscientific) conclusion: With a solid majority of stoners also saying that nugs are nice with nookie, cannabis is either boosting Vermont couples' sex lives or making bad relationships more bearable.
According to the RAND report, Vermonters consume marijuana at some of the highest rates in the country. How often are Vermonters packing bowls, bongs and vaporizers? One-third of Weeders Survey respondents say they're daily users; another quarter crack the baggie or unscrew the mason jar on "most days." More than 80 percent inhale or ingest at least once a week.
Among the more casual users, slightly more than 7 percent indulge only on "holidays and special occasions" — we're thinking the Fourth of July and Jerry Garcia's birthday, for starters. Two percent only puff when a pipe or joint gets passed to them at parties.
Fewer than one in 10 respondents say they spark up as soon as they roll out of bed, but many of those reserve their wake-and-bake sessions for weekends and days off.
Among the 2 percent who say they partake before work or school — and another 2 percent during work or school — many noted that they work at home. Our bad for not offering self-employed, retired or disabled options as separate categories.
Several remark that they puff prior to punching the clock to relieve work-related anxiety, or after hours because, as one user put it, doing so "helps me unwind from dealing with the general public all day."
Eighty-seven percent of you bought weed in the last year. Clearly it pays to buy in bulk. Costco, anyone?
Asked to rank your preferred doobage delivery device, you told us:
Seven Days stoners emphatically believe that ganja is good for their bodies, minds and souls.
Nearly nine in 10 say that weed makes them more creative. More than six in 10 say they get hornier when high, and 56 percent say it improves their sex drive.
Nearly eight in 10 say pot usage helps them sleep better. A sixtysomething daily user in Chittenden County writes: "I wake up every three hours, like clockwork, to walk around, take a leak, open the door to the deck, take a toke and slip back asleep."
His restlessness may derive from another source: The same respondent says he once got stopped by police in Steamboat Springs, Colo., with a half pound of coke in his car. D'oh!
More than half of our self-reporters say pot makes them more sociable, but more than one-quarter feel less sociable with a buzz on. Almost equal numbers say weed is good or bad for their concentration. Different tokes for different folks...
We weren't shocked to learn that weed negatively affects coordination in nearly one in three people. But for the others, it either has no effect (47 percent) or improves moves (22 percent). Could this have something to do with Vermont's prominence in the world of competitive snowboarding?
Does reefer relieve anxiety? Sixty percent of users say yes. But 19 percent get the opposite effect. Twenty-one percent say that weed neither boosts nor blunts their tendency to get anxious.
Similar results crop up regarding levels of depression. A solid 63 percent report that herb has a positive impact on their state of happiness, compared to just 7 percent who feel more bummed after burning one. Only 30 percent say that weed has no effect whatsoever on their happiness levels. Perhaps these folks should consider a different strain.
More solid numbers align pot use and stress relief. A solid 84 percent of respondents say that weed relieves their stress, while fewer than 5 percent report that it increases theirs.
Overall, about 80 percent of respondents say that pot is a positive influence on their mental health, compared to just 16 percent who are neutral on it and 4 percent who say that weed negatively affects their mental health.
More than 200 people who took the Weeders Survey have never tried weed or have given it up. Among those who've quit, 38 percent say they've smoked in the last five years; another 13 percent in the last six to 14 years. The rest last indulged in ganja in the last century.
One in five respondents report that they tried it a few times but didn't like it. About 18 percent say they don't like it anymore, and about 10 percent stopped when they began families and "grew up." Only 1 percent say they stopped using pot because they got into trouble with it — or with the law.
Of the 32 people who provide additional comments, one sums up the remarks of many: "It got in the way of my work, relationships, friendships and family. It negatively impacted my mental health. I became paranoid. It was a big problem for me."
Others note general problems with substance abuse and say that smoking weed only increased their desire and likelihood to use harder drugs. Only one person is worried about the physical health effects.
Still others express concerns about drug testing. One thirty-something married man in Chittenden County says there's "too much risk due to it being illegal. Would use it on a semi-regular basis otherwise."
Several people who work in the military or law enforcement fear their credibility or opportunities for career advancement could be compromised, even if marijuana were legalized. Says one, "I became a professional adult, and the stakes for illegal behavior were no longer tenable."
Another fortysomething single homeowner in Washington County is more blunt: "Smoking pot is a waste of time and energy."
Prior to this survey, we could only guess how much weed Vermonters keep on hand. So we asked. The answers are eye-opening.
A few folks admit to having been in possession of felonious quantities of herb, including a sixtysomething Chittenden County risk-taker who once trafficked five kilos on a flight from Southeast Asia onto Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Another kind fellow says he gifted out "eight pounds of my very best organic awesomeness — mostly to needy folks."
That said, most cannabis consumers — nearly 70 percent — have kept an ounce on hand at some point, including 30 percent who've kept more than an ounce but less than a pound. Of those who've had more than a pound kicking around, several qualify that it was only during harvest season. (Or when Phish was in town?)
Eight in 10 get high with a little help from their friends, and vice versa. Only 2 percent have dealt professionally, though at least one in 10 has helped a buddy score some bud.
Pot proponents partake for myriad reasons, such as avoiding hangovers, getting a better buzz and "want[ing] to have fun without falling down." As one daily user puts it: "Cannabis is like the loudness button on your stereo — it makes most things better, but for me it's about being active, and it's hard to be active when you're drunk or on most other drugs."
Many of the 211 people who elaborate on why they get high say they use cannabis for its medicinal properties — including those not on the registry. A thirtysomething married woman in Chittenden County writes: "I have Crohn's disease, and weed mitigates my flares better than any FDA-approved drugs."
Another fortysomething divorced female, who smokes Northern Lights in the evenings, says, "It helps my nausea and my PTSD symptoms."
From a twentysomething daily smoker who grows his own in Chittenden County: "Unlike Zoloft or Risperdal, it doesn't make me happy while at the same time making me want to kill myself."
Still others enjoy weed's psychological and physical properties. A twentysomething single male from Essex County writes that it makes him a "more tolerant and patient person," and also "relaxes my stomach muscles and eases my farts!" On behalf of your date companions, we thank you for pot smoking.
Other chronic reasons Vermonters get high:
Nearly half of all survey respondents say their family members know they partake; another quarter report that they've told a select few. Only 7 percent are closet stoners around their kin.
As for talking to the kids about pot use, 36 percent of parents say they have or will. Just 4 percent say their kids don't know. A lot of people with older children wrote in to say it was no big deal: The kids are fine with it and, in some cases, pot has become a shared activity.
This was reassuring: 84 percent say they had not shared weed with a minor — not deliberately, anyway. No one copped to sharing weed with anyone under the age of 16.
Breaking news flash! Nearly eight in 10 stoners say that pot makes them hungry. Someone alert the researchers at the New England Journal of Medicine and Lake Champlain Chocolates. Before you exclaim, "No one's ever eaten this!" consider what your fellow Vermonters have ingested to satisfy the munchies:
Raw lamb, dog biscuits, canned Chinese black beetles, beef heart, 1/2 gallon of raw milk and a whole chocolate cake, deep-fried Twinkies, spicy grasshoppers, crickets, squid, horsemeat, frogs' legs, cigarette ashes in a coke bottle, live goldfish, a whole turkey, peanut butter with jelly and tuna, urine, tripe, goat intestines, salted jellyfish, worm in the bottle of Mescal, alligator, a meatball sandwich made with Belgian waffles, rattlesnake, laundry detergent, durian fruit, ice cream and hummus, rice beetles, catnip quesadilla, strawberry-grilled cheese sandwich, a seed bomb, Crunchy Cheetos in clam chowder, chocolate sauce on a cheeseburger with anchovies, raw caribou meat, BBQ ostrich, banana-pudding pizza, dehydrated minnows, sand, Rocky Mountain oysters, chocolate-covered ants, pepperoni waffles with ice cream, spiders, hot dogs dipped in marshmallow Fluff, a June bug, cow brains, gefilte fish, lamb testicles with fresh blueberries, semi-rotten leftovers, cottage cheese and kimchi, deer heart, goat's head soup, fingernails, rabbit empanadas, bong water, blowfish, and way too many Flintstones vitamins!
Just 18 percent of stoners say they prefer to spark up solo. Those who enjoy the company of others are very selective. For many, it's "only with my wife" or another romantic partner, with good friends or with family.
"But not all family!" clarifies one. "Some of them are a buzzkill."
Suffice it to say, a fair number of cats and dogs would also recognize the sound of a bubbling bong.
Just about half of our respondents abide by the "put-it-in-front-of-me" rule: They partake whenever, however and with whomever it's offered.
Evidently, a fair share of Green Mountain ganja users are cannabis connoisseurs. More than a third say they know the name of the strain they're smoking, eating or vaping; another quarter want to know. A solid 60 percent know that sativa and indica strains aren't yoga postures.
Indeed, several readers offer a handy tip for remembering which is which: Indica is short for "in da couch," i.e., the more relaxing and calming body buzz, versus sativa's uplifting, cerebral and potentially hallucinatory high.
About 25 percent of respondents are locavore cannabis consumers; they seek out weed grown in the Green Mountain State. Fewer than 10 percent say they get it exclusively from outside Vermont. Thirty-seven percent use both — presumably, buying whatever is available. Fully one-quarter have no clue from whence their weed comes, though many express a desire to know what they're consuming, where and how it's grown, and who they're supporting by buying it.
What kinds are currently kicking around Vermont? We've grouped them into categories based on other things for which they might be mistaken:
New Ben & Jerry's flavors: Cotton Candy, Girl Scout Cookie, Huckleberry, Mango, Lemon Diesel, Bubblegum, Orange Crush, Blueberry Haze, Chocolate Chunk, Lemon Haze, Pineapple Kush, Honey Bear, Organic Cherry Pie, Coco Kush, Grape Ape, Jelly Bean, Banana Kush
Dutch Boy paint swatches (apropos given the number of Vermonters who say they've visited Amsterdam to get high): Purple Haze, Purple Afghan, Purple Dump Truck, Troy Purple, Blue Dream, Blue Venom, Blue Cheese, Super Silver Haze, White Witch, White Widow, White Rhino, Berry White, Snow Fairy, Northern Lights, Orange Cheese, Cali Mist, Green Mamba, Black Jack
Weapons of mass destruction: AK-47, Sour Diesel, ChemDog, Flower Bomb Kush, Afghani Train Wreck, Hippie Killer, Blackwater
Medical ailments: Dream Ripper, Jawbreaker, Amnesia Haze, Green Crack
Spiritual enlightenment: Holy Grail, God Bud, Medical Mass, Exodus Cheese
College mascots: Pride of the Valley, Big Mamma, Wonder Woman, Elvis, Cinderella 99, Jack Flash, William's Wonder, Alaskan Thunderfuck
A lot of weed-loving Vermonters work for themselves — in which case, the boss is totally cool with it. Keeping that in mind, 32 percent of survey respondents say their supervisor is aware of their penchant for pot. Twenty-seven percent aren't sure. A full 42 percent aren't sharing that info with the so-called higher-ups.
Green Mountain stoners are more chill about their cannabis consumption around their coworkers — about 38 percent report that their workmates know, while 26 percent say only the ones who get high know. Says one Washington County Dem, who is now in his sixties: "I worked for the State of Vermont for 35 years. I am now retired. I have smoked pot with people in the governor's office as well as employees from a half dozen departments. It was never a big deal."
No word yet on which administration hot-boxed the fifth floor.
A young woman working in Chittenden County is more discreet: "I think it's very likely that most of my coworkers smoke weed, but it's not appropriate to discuss at work, and I wouldn't feel comfortable smoking weed with coworkers because it's illegal, and if they felt vengeful they could use it to get me fired." Harsh toke!
Despite ample workplace caution, 802 stoners seem to seek each other out at work. About 70 percent of people report getting high with a coworker — though often off-premises and off the clock. Says one, "Sometimes it was THE THING that saved a shitty day. We'd call it an 'attitude adjustment.'"
Says another, "My entire office smokes. If we had a drug test, everyone would be out a job, including the managers and owners."
One sixtysomething Chittenden County man says he'd never consider getting high with his current coworkers, writing "They'd have to 'process it' over multiple useless staff meetings and still not come up with a clear outcome objective. My head would explode if I had to smoke with a rookie hipster who has anxiety about drinking the wrong beer or the wrong coffee."
About 65 percent of cannabis consumers say they've never had to pee in a cup for the Man. The one in five who did either abstained for a while or quit to pass it. Only one in 10 say they passed a piss test without changing their habits. Slightly more than 1 percent refused to take the test, and 2 percent failed it.
When asked, "What's the dumbest thing you've ever done while high?" a bunch of clever folks write, "Take this survey!" Others challenge the suggestion that smoking bones causes boneheaded behavior. Yes, we know you've all grasped Einstein's theory of general relativity six bongs hits into the night. You just couldn't explain it to anyone.
Though this question wasn't meant to be provocative, we asked it for another reason: to see what didn't turn up. Granted, there are a few truly scary responses, including "set 500 acres on fire," drove "90 mph without knowing," "jumped into the Huntington Gorge" and "did a backflip off a 60-foot cliff into water."
That said, no one reports beating a spouse or kids, chipping a tooth on a beer bottle, punching a cop or backing over a toddler. Many identify driving as their worst stoner move, but equally common are reports of classes skipped to play video games, milk returned to the cupboards rather than the refrigerator, ill-considered marriage proposals and bad food decisions. (See above for more on the munchies.)
The vast majority of the 1,106 written answers fall into the hilarious-and-harmless category, including "peed pants," "accidentally shit in a hoodie," "ate too much junk food," "lost car keys" and, tellingly, "nothing I wouldn't do sober."
In short, Vermont's cannabis consumers, like all humans, cop to doing some stupid shit — they just don't blame it on the weed. As one twentysomething woman from Windsor County puts it, "I can't think of any significant 'dumb' things I've done on pot. Ask me about alcohol and I could write you an entire list."
Other classic moves:
It takes more than a toke or two to extinguish the Vermont work ethic. Asked "What's the most productive thing you've done while high on weed?" Seven Days stoners say they routinely lay down masonry and put up cabinets while high. They learn and play musical instruments and compose musical scores. They write term papers, master's theses, dissertations, novels, songs, poems and articles. One even claims to have taken the Vermont bar exam while baked.
For others, being productive means being reproductive. Several folks say they conceived their kids on kind bud; two others managed their labor pains by getting high. Another two claim they saved someone's life, including one who prevented a suicide.
Other high-functioning activities
By a wide margin, Seven Days stoners say they prefer the green stuff to other substances — though alcohol and caffeine are close runners-up. Nearly nine out of 10 cannabis consumers describe themselves as "regular" or "occasional" drinkers, and more than eight in 10 down caffeine in some form.
One in four uses tobacco products.
In contrast, 98 percent of survey respondents say they've never used bath salts, GHB, heroin, crystal meth, inhalants or steroids; 97 percent have never done amphetamines. More than 90 percent have never abused prescription opiates, and more than 80 percent have never tripped on ecstasy. Three-quarters avoided acid altogether.
In fact, the only other illegal drugs that show up on our survey with any frequency — that is, in more than single-digit percentages — are mushrooms and peyote. Fourteen percent have enjoyed that psychedelic experience.
At least 74 respondents explain that their harder drug use, especially psychedelics, were youthful dalliances or once-in-a-blue-moon indulgences.
About six in 10 respondents are only mildly or not at all concerned about others knowing. Only 2 percent say no one can ever know.
Eight out of 10 cannabis consumers have lit up in public — including at concerts, festivals, ski resorts, Church Street, bike rides, in Amsterdam, at beaches, in parks, in college dorms and on campus. Even more — 96 percent — have been high in public. Shocking.
Only one in 10 people surveyed has ever been busted for pot sales or use. A fiftysomething Orleans County Progressive who last bought weed "when disco was still all the rage" says he got arrested for herb but beat the rap. A jury acquitted him. He currently makes money by selling weed. Incidentally, the most productive thing he claims to have ever done stoned was build parts for the aerospace industry. Yikes.
The good news: Fewer than 1 percent of Weeder Survey respondents have flown a plane or operated a military vehicle under the influence of marijuana.
The bad news, if you're promoting legalization to public safety advocates: More than three-quarters of respondents have operated a car or truck high; only 16 percent of those surveyed say they've "never" driven stoned.
Generally speaking, pot-loving people are on the go: 44 percent have ridden something pedal-powered; 28 percent have piloted a sailboat, kayak, canoe or inner tube; 12 percent drove a snowmobile, motorboat or ATV; and 9 percent operated a tractor, forklift or snowplow. More than 90 "other" responses mention stoned motorcycling, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, driving golf carts, and riding skateboards and lawn mowers.
At least one Vermont stoner from Windsor County knows he shouldn't have been behind the wheel and expresses remorse over it. "Drove a tractor trailer during rush hour in Atlanta," he writes. "Got super paranoid. Won't do that again!"
Shocking news: Three percent of respondents haven't decided whether Vermont should legalize marijuana. A whopping 96 percent say yes. Fewer than 1 percent of respondents vote no.
If and when legalization happens, 83 percent of respondents say they'd feel moderately to totally "free at last," while fewer than 1 percent say they'd still keep their cannabis consumption closeted. No worries. Your secret is safe with us.
If Vermont were to legalize marijuana:
Special thanks to Ashley Cleare, Neel Tandan and Audrey Williams for additional data compilation.
The original print version of this article was headlined "High Society"
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