Marijuana and Cell Phones: Adapting to Changes in Teen Behavior

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November 14, 2013 - By Amanda Reiman

When I was in high school in the early 1990’s, there were no cell phones. There were barely beepers, and only “drug dealers” had those.

Because there were no cell phones, there were no rules about not having phones in class and getting into a car accident because of phone distractions was nonexistent. When cell phones started to make their way into high schools, the rules changed.

Teachers and parents realized that, with this new technology, teens were going to need some guidelines and boundaries to ensure their safety. Even as the instance of auto accidents while texting increased, some of them fatal, no one ever said, “we should just get rid of cell phones.” That would have been ludicrous, not to mention impossible.

The point is, there will always be societal changes that require us create new rules and boundaries to keep kids safe.

Recently, the Denver Post ran a story entitled, “Pot Problems in Schools Increase with Legalization.” The article reports how, since Colorado legalized marijuana last year, the instance of it showing up in middle and high schools has increased, as has the number of young people suspended for marijuana. These reports of increased use and presence are based on anecdotal evidence from teachers and counselors, but the 720 students expelled for marijuana from Colorado high schools in the past year is very, very real, and not without serious consequences.

Much like the invention of cell phones, the changing marijuana laws in the U.S. require teachers and parents to think about what is best for not only the safety of young people, but their future. The fact that more teachers and counselors are noticing marijuana could be due to the fact that it is in the news more often and that its use is less stigmatized, but this might not indicate higher rates of use.

Indeed, actual research (not anecdotal evidence) has shown that marijuana use among young people declines after the passage of medical marijuana laws. Furthermore, after being caught with marijuana, is expulsion really the best solution?

Marijuana use by teens, beyond simple experimentation, can be indicative of other problems; problems that could be addressed in school and with participation in extra-curricular activities. Kicking a kid out of school that is heavily using marijuana gives them, not surprisingly, more time to use marijuana with less supervision. How this is helpful, I have no idea.

And, when considering safety, one has to ask, is the simple presence of marijuana indicative of harm? A recent study revealed that one fifth of high school seniors report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks, with over 50 percent consuming more than 10 drinks on binge drinking occasions.

It is time to stop harping on the issue of marijuana, and start looking at the issue of teens and safety more broadly, including the outcomes associated with expulsion and behaviors such as binge drinking.

The attitudes around marijuana in the United States are changing, and although marijuana has always been around, its heightened presence in the media and the gradual removal of stigma means we have to start thinking like we did when cell phones started to enter our schools, with a focus on guidelines and messages around safety and responsible use.

Amanda Reiman is the California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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