HD5 - Comprehensive Plan for Virginia’s Youth: Universal Cannabis and Other Substance Use Education, Prevention, and Professional Development (Chapter 552, 2021 SSI)

Executive Summary:

During the 2021 legislative session, HB2312 (Herring) and SB1406 (Ebbin; Lucas) were passed by the General Assembly, and signed into law. These bills ended the prohibition of simple possession of cannabis for adults 21 years and older.

HB2312 and SB1406 are informed by public health expertise, include prevention and education measures, and commit resources to needed health and education services. The bills include best practices to prevent youth access, including banning advertising that is attractive to youth, prohibiting stores near schools, mandating warning labels and child-prevention locks, and requiring robust public health education curriculum for all students in the Commonwealth and corresponding professional development for teachers. By implementing a comprehensive evidence-based cannabis education curriculum in public schools using a health and wellness approach, Virginia will proactively support healthy lifestyles for youth, emotional health and wellbeing and social skills integrated with a wide range of risk and protective factors. Cannabis prevention curriculum will also not only reduce the onset and regular use of drugs among youth, it will elevate student voice and agency. Students will learn about the science behind healthy choices and benefits on overall growth and development. Generations of students in Virginia will benefit from an effective, frequent, consistent, comprehensive high-quality, evidence-based cannabis substance use prevention education program.

Virginia public schools have experience with providing quality substance abuse instruction to students on a variety of topics. Section 22.1-206 of the Code of Virginia requires instruction concerning drugs, alcohol, substance abuse, and tobacco and nicotine products in public schools. It states:

A. Instruction concerning drugs and drug abuse shall be provided by the public schools as prescribed by the Board of Education.

B. Instruction concerning the public safety hazards and dangers of alcohol abuse, underage drinking, underage marijuana use, and drunk driving shall be provided in the public schools. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority and the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority shall provide educational materials to the Department of Education.

The Department of Education shall review and shall distribute such materials as are approved to the public schools.

C. The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth shall develop and the Department of Education shall distribute to each local school division educational materials concerning the health and safety risks of using tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products, as such terms are defined in § 18.2-371.2. Instruction concerning the health and safety risks of using tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products, as such terms are defined in § 18.2-371.2, shall be provided in each public elementary and secondary school in the Commonwealth, consistent with such educational materials.

In addition, HB2312 and SB1406 (2021) included enactment clauses 18 and 19 to provide for additional instruction for students specifically related to marijuana use. They read:

18. That the Virginia Department of Education (the Department), with assistance from appropriate agencies, local school divisions, and appropriate experts, shall implement a plan to ensure that teachers have access to sufficient information, resources, and lesson ideas to assist them in teaching about the harms of marijuana use among the youth and about substance abuse, as provided in the 2020 Health Standards of Learning. The Department shall (i) review resources currently provided to teachers to determine if additional or updated material or lesson ideas are needed and (ii) provide or develop any additional materials and resources deemed necessary and make the same available to teachers by January 1, 2024. The provisions of this enactment shall become effective in due course.

19. That the Secretary of Education, in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Education, shall develop a plan for introducing teachers, particularly those teaching health, to the information and resources available to them to assist them in teaching the 2020 Health Standards of Learning as it relates to marijuana use. Such plan shall include providing professional development webinars as soon as practicable, as well as ongoing periodic professional development relating to marijuana, as well as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs as appropriate. The plan shall include the estimated cost of implementation and any potential source of funds to cover such cost and shall be submitted to the Governor and General Assembly by November 1, 2021. The provisions of this enactment shall become effective in due course.

This report fulfills the requirement of enactment clause 19 and includes recommendations for a statewide plan to inform state level policy and budget decisions, and support school divisions’ efforts to providing proactive, collaborative supports and resources so that all students acquire healthy, informed decision-making skills when it comes to cannabis and other drugs. This plan builds upon, supports, and informs school division implementation of an evidence-based curriculum aligned with the 2020 Health Education Standards of Learning (SOL).