Marijuana Education Initiative: Informing The Next Generation Of Cannabis Entrepreneurs

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s cannabis industry professionals. But the educational system throughout the United States is sending students mixed messages when it comes to legalized cannabis. These signals range from “it’s okay” to “it’s medicine” to “it’s an addictive drug.”

So children are very confused. Most educational systems are still pushing the War on Drugs era anti-drug campaign onto our children. This antiquated campaign lumps cannabis in with illegal drugs like cocaine, meth, heroin, etc. It paints an inaccurate picture of cannabis.

Two Colorado educators are stepping up to fill the need by creating a progressive informational education program that is compatible with public school curriculum. Started in 2015, the Marijuana Education Initiative (MEI) is the future of cannabis education.

Founders Sarah Grippa (CEO) and Molly Lotz (COO) of MEI are working to change the dialogue between youth, parents, and teachers by providing tools that make the scare-tactics educational program obsolete.

Cannabiz Journal: Why do you feel this need for a new educational program? 

Sarah Grippa: We were educators in Colorado following recreational legalization and our students had a lot of questions that we were not prepared to answer. We were searching for something that moved beyond the scare tactics and antiquated approaches used by programs such as D.A.R.E. We wanted something that was reality-and  science-based that addressed marijuana as a legalized substance and differentiated between youth use and adult use, as well as detailed the realities between medicinal use and recreational use.   

CBJ: What are your goals for MEI? 

Sarah: To be the trusted expert in youth marijuana prevention education and to provide resources to communities, educators, parents, and legislators that promote an informed message of delaying or abstaining from use during adolescence. 

CBJ: How is MEI different than the old-fashioned “all drugs are bad” education?  

Sarah: Typically “drug education” is taught in a health class. Health educators teach a unit about tobacco, a unit about alcohol, and a unit about “drugs.” Under the category of “drugs” you find that marijuana is taught [as though it were the same as] heroin, meth, cocaine, and LSD. In today’s world such approaches are no longer relevant. Teenagers know there is a significant difference between the effects of marijuana and heroin. Marijuana is also legal either recreationally or medicinally in many states and educational practices must address that reality. Today’s youth are growing up in a world of legalized and medicinal marijuana; that is their reality. We must address them within the scope of their reality and not the reality that we grew up in. In Colorado we have what is known as ‘“Jack’s Law,” [which] allows students who use cannabis for medicinal purposes—for example, as an anti-epileptic—to have access to their medication at school either through a parent or school nurse. For these reasons, it is important that educators discuss with their students the differences between recreational and medicinal uses of the product.

CBJ: You state that your educational program is progressive. Can you compare the acceptance and reaction of your program to when sex education came out, which was considered progressive?    

Sarah: We move away from a “Just Say No” approach and utilize a harm reduction model. We believe in empowering youth with information to make informed choices.  Much like with sex education, one can choose to take the “Wait until Marriage” approach or balance conversations about abstinence with education about using protection to prevent pregnancy and STDs, informed consent, and awareness about sexual violence. At the end of the day it is about empowering youth with information to make informed decisions. Some educators remain more comfortable with the D.A.R.E. approach, but the large majority are looking for some way to have reality-based conversations with youth about marijuana. We have certainly seen this need increase over the past two years as marijuana policy reform continues to move forward.

CBJ: You mentioned that there is a communication gap between adults and adolescents. Is this gap any different than the normal, regular gap while growing up?

Molly Lotz: The gap is different now because of legalized marijuana. Most of today’s adults grew up in the War on Drugs era, the eggs in the frying pan, and the “Just Say No”  approach. Many adults today don’t know about things such as the endocannabinoid system and the differences between THC and CBD. Additionally, many adults don’t know how to discuss the differences between adult use and youth use. They may inherently know there is a difference, but not know how to articulate it to their teens. So today, in the world of legalized marijuana, parents/adults who use cannabis themselves fear looking like hypocrites to their teens if they say “it’s okay for me, but not for you.”  As a result many parents often avoid having the conversation. 

CBJ: You offer a parent guide on your website. What is the mission of that publication? Also, can you give me your favorite quote out of the guide? 

Molly: The mission of our parent guide is to give parents the resources and talking points they need to have an informed and accurate conversation with their teens about the risks associated with youth marijuana use.   

CBJ: You have three 2016 Evaluation Reports from Colorado State University on your website. What is the purpose of these reports? How do they help your educational program?

Molly: We knew early on that we would have to prove that this new approach to marijuana education would work. This is the first opportunity to educate and inform youth on a substance that has previously been considered illicit for generations, and we wanted to get it right. Our early evaluative data reaffirms our efforts to support youth in delaying first or chronic use by using fact-based education as the means to increase self-efficacy.

CBJ: What kind of hurdles does your business currently face?

Sarah: The type of hurdle we currently face is getting adults, who grew up in the War on Drugs era, to shift their mindset away from the “Just Say No” approaches they are so familiar with. Familiarity often brings comfort, but our “comfort” as adults around teaching this subject through old-fashioned intimidation and scare tactics is a disservice to our youth. We work to help adults, educators, and parents alike to understand the importance of stepping out of their comfort zone and having these sometimes uncomfortable conversations.

CBJ: Your website  has an Academy page that was supposed to open Oct. 1, 2017. What is going on with that aspect of your business/

Molly: We are collaborating with a dynamic Learning Management System (LMS) to create a platform that will address a wide scope of marijuana educational needs for coaches, educators, parents. and youth. The product has already outgrown our original concept, so it is taking a bit of time to build, but we anticipate it will become the standard for educators, parents, and youth and provide a self-paced and self-directed, certificate educational program that reaches beyond the school walls. 

CBJ: Which states do you envision reaching into and how soon?

Sarah: Currently our curriculum is being used in a number of schools in Colorado, California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and South Dakota. We hope to significantly increase the number of schools using our curriculum in those states by the 2018–2019 school year. We are also focusing efforts in Illinois, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Canada. We are doing a lot of work in Canada in 2018, including speaking at a cannabis conference in Vancouver in January. 

CBJ: You state that your company does not have a political or ethical stance on legalized weed. How does this stance help you accomplish your business goals?  

Molly: This stance helps us accomplish our business goals by removing us from the heated debate regarding legalized marijuana. We often find that people want us to take a stand or pick a side on this issue. We always say that we are pro-education, and our curriculum is a bi-partisan product. Regardless of whether or not a state has recreational marijuana laws on the books, we can assure you that they have youth who are using marijuana. Even non-legalized states are still in need of updated educational practices around the subject.

If you would like to know more about MEI, visit their website at Let schools, educators, legislators, policy makers, and families know that we need our children informed so they can create the right point of view regarding cannabis. As our children grow up, many of them will step into the business and they should not be surprised about the uses, benefits, and effects of cannabis.