A teacher’s view on teen marijuana consumption
As states stand on the verge of legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis, fears continue to play out among people concerned that the new policy will lead to increased consumption of marijuana by teens.
Data has shown however that teen consumption has not increased in states where medical cannabis has been legalized. The total number of states with a medical program currently stands at 21, while four states, as well as Washington, D.C. have legalized the non-toxic plant.
Either medical cannabis or full legalization will be on the ballot in nine states in 2016.
We spoke with a Texas high school teacher who shared their experience with teen cannabis consumption to get a clearer idea of how this matter has impacted the classroom and students’ lives.
With over a decade of experience, this teacher says that during their first year on the job a student was arrested for selling marijuana to other students.
“I became curious how marijuana was sold and used by students in my school. I wondered if anything was different from when I attended high school in the 70s. It turns out that the sale and use of marijuana at my high school is exactly as it was in high schools in the 70s. Organized criminal enterprises recruit high school students to sell marijuana to their fellow students. The students selling can make up to several hundred dollars each month. They sell very small quantities, selling marijuana in pre-rolled joints or maybe sixteenths or eighths of an ounce.”
As it turns out, many students attend class while under the influence of cannabis.
“The marijuana is sold and used just off the school grounds before and after school and during lunch and at parties. I can see small groups of students leaving the school grounds each morning before school and going to hide behind buildings, in groves of trees or in their cars to get high. Obviously, I have never seen the actual sale or use of marijuana by students but the pattern is the same as the 70s and these groups of students are the same types of kids who have always smoked marijuana in high school–the rebels and the outsiders.”
“Students who get high before school or at lunch get sleepy in class and they get thirsty and they don’t do any work. They might act silly and laugh and giggle. Sometimes their eyes are bloodshot.”
Most teens who consume marijuana are typically said to do so because of emotional and family issues.
“Many of them have been neglected or abused. They tend to be very unhappy and sometimes angry kids who are using marijuana as an escape from their very serious emotional and family problems they are dealing with. The marijuana is not causing the problems; the marijuana is the escape from the core issues affecting their lives negatively.”
The current laws are not helping make things any better for them either.
“These kids need intense counseling. Instead, if they get caught, they get arrested, they go to jail, they go through the juvenile justice system, unless they are 17, which many of them are, and then they are treated as an adult in the state criminal justice system. The 17 year old students end up with a criminal record that may prevent them from joining the military, getting student loans, attending college or getting hired for jobs. So they start their adult lives at an extreme disadvantage.”
Teaching students about how getting arrested for marijuana impacts their lives is important.
“I teach my students the repercussions of being arrested for marijuana in Texas. Many of them have no clue about the law or the criminal justice system and how a conviction for possession will affect their future lives. Teenagers don’t think about the future or secondary effects of their choices; they only live in the moment. I teach them about the consequences and hope that they will listen and think about what I said when (not if, when) they are offered a joint.”
“Arresting these teens, locking them in jail and giving them a criminal record is not the answer to this problem. We are handicapping their future by arresting them. And we are not dealing with the core reasons they decided to start using marijuana in the first place. Possession of marijuana needs to be a civil penalty for teenagers; not a Class B misdemeanor. And if they are caught using marijuana, they need long-term professional counseling and support to deal with their emotional and family problems that led to most of them choosing to get high.”
Opinions vary among teachers on the matter.
“Teacher opinions on this issue cover the same range as Texas citizens’ opinions; some teachers believe harsh punishment is a deterrent, some believe, like me, that harsh punishment only exacerbates the problems for these teenagers. The fact is, nothing has changed in our high schools since the 70s. Marijuana is still available on a daily basis to any student who chooses to use it, the marijuana is still being supplied by student dealers through organized local criminal enterprises, and harsh punishment does not deter most students who decide that they want to get high because they believe they are invulnerable. That is why I believe legalization will help this issue. We will put the criminal enterprises out of the marijuana business and we will have dispensaries licensed by the state which check IDs. It will be impossible to keep teens from using marijuana, just like it is impossible to keep them from using alcohol if they choose to drink. However, legalizing marijuana will bring it up from the underground market and make it more difficult for teens to purchase and use.”
This is an issue which this teacher relates to very well, as they speak with the perspective of someone who has been there.
“I did smoke marijuana in high school. I was dealing with serious emotional and family problems. Marijuana helped me relax. Marijuana also caused me to skip school to smoke it, did not help me make good grades because I was too high to focus and ended up getting me kicked out of high school for possession. What I really needed was professional counseling but that was not available.”
They also believe that there is never a good reason for teens to consume marijuana for recreational purposes.
“Teens are not responsible enough to be using marijuana recreationally, just as they are not responsible enough to be using alcohol. Teens need to wait until they are 21 to even consider using marijuana. I told my own son many times when he was a teen that there were zero reasons for him to use any mind altering substance while he was focused on his education, his athletic development and figuring out who he was as a person.”
Texas saw 12 bills introduced to the legislature during the 2015 session concerning cannabis, varying from penalty reduction, medical, to full legalization. Only one of those bills passed, a limited CBD medical cannabis bill.
A recent survey by Texas Lyceum shows that 75 percent of Texans want to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession. As for legalization, about 46 percent are supportive while 48 percent are opposed.