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 crime — theorized 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?