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Teens and Marijuana: Are We Sending the Wrong Message?

Marijuana is easy to obtain, and even easier to justify now that it's legal in some states. Locally, Evanston has decriminalized small amounts. Opinion columnist Christine Wolf wonders what effect all this has on teenagers.

Last week, a friend with older kids mentioned how easy it is to buy marijuana at the high school.

“It’s everywhere,” she said. 

I’ve always heard phrases like, “It’s so easy to get drugs” or “You wouldn’t believe what goes on…” but now that I’m the mother of a high schooler, I’m listening a lot more closely.

Personally, I didn’t take a lot of chances in high school (at least until I was a senior, but that’s another column altogether). As a freshman, I firmly believed alcohol and drugs would only weaken a laser-sharp focus on my two greatest interests: good grades and cute boys. My deepest fear was disappointing my parents and/or getting caught doing something that might jeopardize my future.

My father, on the other hand, kept a Sucrets lozenge box filled with joints in a bathroom drawer. When asked what they were, he tamped out one of his cigarettes and said, “they’re my homemade cigarettes.” I believed him. He recently died of esophageal cancer.

Flash forward thirty years to today’s American high school student, connected to their mobile phones, the Internet and 24/7 BREAKING and sensational news…their entire lives lived in a country at war with others. A life in which the media bombs them with explicit details about Columbine, tsunamis, hurricanes, steroids, and mass shootings — yet hardly a whisper about managing finances or becoming solid leaders. TV programs glamorize the lives of the laid-back and ludicrous, while sales catalogs and billboards portray “peers” living the so-called American dream, all while millions of them wonder when their parents will find a job.

American teenagers’ lives are beyond stressful – and many of them, if they’re not selling drugs to put food in their bellies, are searching for ways to ease their anxiety.

According to a 2011 study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 7.2 percent of 8th graders, 17.6 percent of 10th graders, and 22.6 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana in the month before the survey. Marijuana use declined from the late 1990s through 2007, with a decrease of more than 20 percent in all three grades combined from 2000 to 2007. Unfortunately, this trend appears to be reversing. Since 2006, annual, monthly, and daily marijuana use increased among 10th and 12th graders, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In 2011, for example, 6.6 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana daily, compared to 5.0 percent in 2006.

Here’s where it gets really complicated. State law in Colorado and Washington now allows adults 21 and over to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, but on the federal level, marijuana’s still illegal – leaving law enforcement in those states in a bit of a conundrum. Meanwhile, Evanston aldermen voted last year to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now, any individual found with 10 grams or less will not be arrested. Instead, violators are issued a notice to appear before Evanston’s Division of Administrative Hearings, fined between $50 and $500 and may be ordered to seek drug counseling.

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard kids say they believe drinking alcohol is more dangerous than smoking pot. When asked where they got that idea, the answer’s always consistent: “We learned it in school.” (According to this HuffPost column, the theory holds water). Add in California’s recent 20 percent decrease in juvenile crimetheorized by some to be the result of decriminalizing marijuana possession of one ounce or less from a misdemeanor to an “infraction” — and you’ve got an easy argument for using pot.

However, not everyone agrees that marijuana’s the “safer” vice, particularly among young people. Habitual marijuana smokers (4 or more times/week) who began smoking before the age of 18 demonstrated an 8 point drop in IQ between the ages of 13 and 38, according to a New Zealand study published last year. Those who smoked less often (but who began smoking before age 18) also dropped IQ points in the before the age of 38, and those who abstained from marijuana use actually gained an average of 1 IQ point.

The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy also opposes marijuana legalization, arguing that marijuana use is harmful and that legalization would actually increase its use and do little to curb drug violence. (Here’s the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s position on legalization.)

So here I am, writing to you, readers, asking what you think. It’s such a slippery slope. To the teens reading this, I’ll give you my honest opinion:

You should NEVER EVER EVER use marijuana. It alters your brain cells. Whether you like it or not, some people in our society will view you as a slacker for using and might therefore interfere with your opportunities. You don’t know how your brain will respond to it (or even what’s mixed in to what you’re buying).  You may hate it or you may love it, but if you love it, trust me, you’ll want more, and you’re very likely to use it so much that you’ll stop getting high from it and then you’ll start using other, stronger things to get that same high. It’s a path you don’t want to walk…

Readers, what do you think?

Debbie January 17, 2013 at 01:02 AM
I am one of those that agree with making pot legal and regulating and taxing it like we do cigarettes. There are a whole lot of substances like synthetic marijuana, pharmaceuticals (think about how many kids pop ADHD drugs when they don't medically require it) and alcohol that are legal and available everywhere. Is the issue here that pot should or should not be legal? Because for every pro stance article we can find one on the opposite side. But, if you truly want to break down the issues at the high school, then alcohol is a much larger issue than pot. I responded to Christine on Facebook with this as well, but ETHS is primarily broken down into those that drink and those that smoke. There are some that do both and, of course, there are some that have issues with other drugs. However, in response to LM's comments above, do not think for one second that your kid can't go purchase alcohol from a liquor store or get into a bar. Ask the kids where they purchase their booze from (through a back door in the alley) or what infamous Evanston bar STILL lets underage kids in by hopping the fence and giving the bouncer some cash or with the worst out of state fake ID's ever. Or where the kids could stop before school in the mornings or on lunch and buy a shot of most anything for a few bucks. Drinking is illegal for them and yet they find a way to get it. So, yes, there are, in a sense "tequila dealers".
june shellene January 27, 2013 at 08:54 PM
I hope it's of interest to everyone to understand the CIA's drug trade is alive and well. James Corbett is only one of many sources on this. Do your own research though. Always best. http://www.corbettreport.com/the-cia-and-the-drug-trade-eyeopener-preview/
june shellene January 27, 2013 at 09:03 PM
Another thought, is if we honored our children...if we didn't work so hard at amputating their right brain...their source of creativity and all the really cool things human beings have at their disposal, they wouldn't be dying to get the hell out of the hellish mental state our "educational" institutions pushes them into while marginalizing the kids who refuse to sit down and shut up and learn how to parrot back mostly uninteresting information. Here's a few interesting clips. In the first, a recent high school valedictorian gal pulls the veil off the whole dumbing down system we so foolish call education. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M4tdMsg3ts The second clip is a woman who watched, as a government insider, as public schooling had its heart and soul ripped out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezTIYd5UFRY
Why? June 08, 2014 at 01:18 AM
Those of you commenting in opposition to marijuana use and it's ticketing think you are knowledgeable and righteous in your stand. Guess what? You actually don't have a clue. Marijuana is safe. It's so safe that it's much safer than alcohol. Yes, I do inform my teenager of this truth! No, it doesn't cause burglaries:) You also do not understand ONE THING about race and society if you are against ticketing. Cook County jail is not a place for convicted criminals. It's a holding cell of poor people who are still awaiting trial. They're too poor to post bail. Most haven't had a trial! This is where tax payers money is going! So, 1st Commentor... No - drugs aren't ruining lives. You're ruining lives with your complete ignorance of today's society. You're ruining lives shoving people in jail where they are out their family's life, school, and workforce. You're ruining lives by placing more money into jails and prisons than into school!
Why? June 08, 2014 at 01:28 AM
Yes! You, Christina, are sending the wrong message. You let your child wear leggings (which show the entire outline of the butt and are provocative! (And just outright nasty!) But you don't tell them the truth about marijuana? I have respect for the study done on teenagers' IQ. So, I told mine it's not for use while he's a teenager, but it's safe for adults. It is safer than alcohol. It isn't the "safer vice". It's just SAFE! What's not safe is little girls showing their asses to child molesters. What's not safe is walking around gas pumps. What's not safe is telling them NOT TO DO DRUGS.

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