Haze of legal marijuana settles over schools
Haze of legal marijuana settles over schools
The room was equal parts parents and their middle and high school-age children, the youths tapping their feet nervously, faces flushed, likely mortified to be seen alongside their parents in public.
Whatever arm-twisting it took to get there, adults and their offspring gathered recently for one in a series of drug talks, this one detailing the perplexing labyrinth of marijuana’s myths and facts that today’s students are forced to muddle through.
Embarrassment that first crossed those youngsters’ faces quickly dissipated as Mesa County sheriff’s deputy Chad Williams dove in. For the full hour, parents and kids absorbed the info — how smoking buds (commonly called “flowers” or “trees”) is totally dated, while concentrated marijuana oils smoked in bongs with butane torches or with vaporizers are the trend.
Williams also covered the thrust of advertising campaigns aimed at helping children argue the merits of marijuana to their parents.
Parents and kids quickly calculated: This is not your father’s marijuana.
“Without a doubt there’s a huge push for marijuana right now,” Williams said after the presentation. The deputy splits his time between patrol work and community outreach, such as offering a series of drug talks to groups across the country.
Marijuana for adults is one thing, Williams said. For better or worse, its recreational use now is legal in Colorado for anyone 21 and older.
But his beef is when children soak up those same messages. That marijuana, sometimes still called “medicine,” is safe. That it is better than alcohol. That no one has ever died from getting high.
The truth, Williams said, is that marijuana stalls the development of young brains under the age of 25.
“What we find is, parents don’t really know where to start that conversation with their kids,” he said. “Teens don’t differentiate how it may affect them and an adult. When I ask teens who are struggling with marijuana and drugs, they generally cite the rhetoric, ‘Well, it’s legal so it must be OK.’ ”
Whether you think your teen is listening or not, he or she is.
“Teens and preteens are watching what we’re doing,” said Williams, an enthusiastic anti-drug advocate. “Parents need to be prepared to have that conversation. My kids are 7 and 8 and we talk about it all the time. It doesn’t matter if they’re 15 or 25, parents are the most dynamic influence on that child.”
Since the passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012, school officials and law enforcement in Mesa County have been holding their collective breath. They wondered if the nod to legalize pot would trickle down to more marijuana use in the student population.
By any measurable account, it has.
Law enforcement officials say, anecdotally, they seem to be writing more summonses for youth caught with marijuana.
Expulsions for drugs in School District 51 have spiked. Already this year, 34 students from schools across the district have been booted out of school. Expulsions generally occur after a student’s second offense. Drug distribution triggers an automatic expulsion. About 95 percent of those offenses were for marijuana, said Tim Leon, safety officer for District 51.
In comparison, the district handled 24 drug expulsions during the same time last year and 21 drug expulsions for the first semester in the 2011-12 school year.
“We all know that expulsions are going up. It’s been a big topic at (school) board meetings,” Leon said.
Leon said the absence of local storefronts selling marijuana has been somewhat helpful. That might change if Palisade voters in April approve of recreational marijuana sales.
In the meantime, teachers and administrators are receiving training to better determine if a student is using. Funding for anti-drug education has dropped off, though, mostly with the shift away from the controversial Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs, Leon said. Schools are left dealing with students who mostly bring homegrown pot to school.
“We didn’t know what to expect. This year has just blown up,” he said. “Marijuana is the new alcohol for this generation of students.”
VAPORIZERS, STEALTHY USE
They look like a pen, but you can tell something’s a little different from about 10 feet away, said Nic Morrow, a Central High School sophomore, and Reeannen Mills, a Central freshman.
Pen vaporizers, which can look as mundane as, frankly, a pen, can be snapped up for as little as $15. Vaporizers are used to smoke marijuana concentrate or tobacco, but students at their school mostly use the roughly 5-inch devices for smoking hookah, a flavored tobacco.
“A lot of it is, kids do it because they think it’s not that harmful to their bodies,” Morrow said.
“I’ve seen kids put it in their sleeve and do it in class,” Mills added, demonstrating by putting the sleeve of her shirt up to her mouth.
While tobacco is not allowed on school grounds, there is a shift to use those devices for marijuana concentrates, said Sgt. Wayne Weyler of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.
Some students who steal the pens sell them for $5 a pop on Central’s campus. That’s not to say they can’t be easily obtained legally. They’re sold all over the Internet, at local head shops — even at a kiosk at Mesa Mall.
Marijuana has become such a constant fixture that the Sheriff’s Office schedules two undercover officers a couple times a week to stake out Long Family Memorial Park, which is adjacent to Central, Weyler said. It’s there that adults often sell marijuana to students. Students also use the area to duck off campus and partake.
IT’S MEDICINE, KIDS SAY
When students are referred to Central School Resource Officer Brooke Pace for marijuana offenses, she often asks them why they’re doing it. The most common response: It’s medicine.
That’s the battle she faces. Pace delivers anti-drug talks with the emphasis on science and how dope affects a growing brain and body. Long gone are the days of telling students to just say no because a grown-up says so. Pace, who has a history of working in the Street Crimes Unit, knows how students who get into drugs will end up. She’s seen the results, such as the student who ignored Pace’s warnings and ultimately stole cars and distributed marijuana.
There’s also the story of the local middle school student who found his father’s marijuana stash, skimmed off some and tried to sell it at school. A 14-year-old Olathe High School student recently distributed pot brownies at school, sending another student to a local emergency room. One District 51 teacher didn’t know what to do when she saw a student using an e-pen to smoke in class.
District 51 schools are on the verge of developing policies against vaporizers, Weyler said.
If School Board member Jeff Leany has his way, the district will launch into more of a public awareness campaign about the risks of marijuana to youths.
“Everybody knows your brain function slows down,” Leany said, “We have to let them know these are the consequences. I’m squeaking, but there has to be three of us that squeak to pass a measure.”
Board President Greg Mikolai said he thinks the increase in marijuana use is due in part to a relaxed attitude toward the drug.
“We can do the educating and try to make (students) aware, but if students are going home and the parents aren’t paying attention to this, we’re defeated,” Mikolai said. “You can have six hours of good education undone by six minutes of bad parenting.”
In his presentations, Deputy Williams often points to the danger of the popularity of marijuana increasing alongside a decrease in public opinion over the harmfulness of the drug.
Williams sees the effects when criminals do too many drugs. When working cases, he sometimes mutters: “What did you do to your developmental process that makes you act like 13 for the rest of your life?”