New York Times 18 August 2014
When the antidrug educator Tim Ryan talks to students, he often asks them what they know about marijuana. “It’s a plant,” is a common response.
But more recently, the answer has changed. Now they reply, “It’s legal in Colorado.”
These are confusing times for middle and high school students, who for most of their young lives have been lectured about the perils of substance abuse, particularly marijuana. Now it seems that the adults in their lives have done an about-face.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and in Washington, and many other states have approved it for medical use. Lawmakers, the news media and even parents are debating the merits of full-scale legalization.
“They are growing up in a generation where marijuana used to be bad, and maybe now it’s not bad,” said Mr. Ryan, a senior prevention specialist with FCD Educational Services, an antidrug group that works with students in the classroom.
“Their parents are telling them not to do it, but they may be supporting legalization of it at the same time.”
Antidrug advocates say efforts to legalize marijuana have created new challenges as they work to educate teenagers and their parents about the unique risks that alcohol, marijuana and other drugs pose to the developing teenage brain.
These educators say their goal is not to vilify marijuana or take a stand on legalization; instead, they say their role is to convince young people and their parents that the use of drugs is not just a moral or legal issue, but a significant health issue.
“The health risks are real,” said Steve Pasierb, the chief executive of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Every passing year, science unearths more health risks about why any form of substance use is unhealthy for young people.”
Already nearly half of teenagers — 44 percent — have tried marijuana at least once, according to data from the partnership. Regular use is less common. One in four teenagers report using marijuana in the past month, and 7 percent report frequent use — at least 20 times in the past month.
Even in the states where marijuana is legal, it remains, like alcohol, off-limits to anyone younger than 21. But the reality is that once a product becomes legal, it becomes much easier for underage users to obtain it.