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Education Opinion

We May All Have Students Who Smoke Pot - Now What?

By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers — September 22, 2013 4 min read

What courageous conversations aren’t we having? This is a thought that has remained in our minds since we wrote about David Whyte’s work on conversational leadership. Then, Sanjay Gupta‘s study of medicinal marijuana was televised. There has been a great deal of research done about the dangers of its use. Those results are made public and influence public opinion. However there has been less research done about its positive affects on chemo, glaucoma, and other patients and those results are far less well known. But Dr. Gupta has opened the door, using his national and international platform, to have people take another look at how they feel about marijuana use. Buried in this special, though certainly not its focus, was the recreational use of marijuana by American teens. The numbers were staggering.

CBS News reports one in ten teens smoke marijuana twenty or more times a month. The National Center on Drug Abuse reports that the number of young people using marijuana has increased over the past five years and that nearly a quarter of twelfth graders use the drug at least monthly. The numbers are rising partially because teens do not see it has harmful. They are also now using synthetic marijuana (SPICE or K2) and prescription drugs for non-medical use. ( Recent reports about drug use in Arizona introduce the word “dabbing” to our drug use vocabulary. Butane Hash Oil (BHO or wax) is highly concentrated and is applied by a dabbing ( On Long Island, it’s Molly, containing the chemical used to make ecstasy (Riverhead Patch).

What does all this mean for us? Using Dr.Gupta’s data, in a high school of five hundred students, there are probably fifty or more students who are smoking marijuana twenty or more times each month....that could be every school day. Accepting this statistic and combining it with the other drug use occurring, we are daily trying to engage students who are changing the way their brains work. They are either coming to school high or they are coming to school with their brains developing differently because of the drug use. In the year 2000, yes, thirteen years ago, the Journal of Addictive Diseases reported “subjects who started using marijuana before age 17, compared to those who started later, had smaller whole brain and percent cortical gray matter and larger percent white matter volumes.” Every school has students who are calling out for our attention in multiple ways because of their learning or social behaviors. We spend time trying to respond and help. That is thirteen-year-old information! We are spinning our wheels if we are not exploring a path to the root of the problem.

While we struggle to raise scores, have students be more engaged, raise attendance rates, help students become part of our communities, we may be pushing hard against a tide we have, societally, not addressed. Marijuana and other drug use are contributing to the challenge. It is not another excuse for us to use. However it may be reflective of our understanding the world of teens. If we choose to sweep this under the rug, and ignore the fact that we have students using drugs of all sorts, we can’t make the changes we dedicate our days to make.

How the lives of young people are handled in each community needs to be different. It surely remains in the hands of school leaders and teachers to build partnerships with parents and community agencies. This problem will not be solved in schools but it appears in our schools and on our streets. Its solutions must be community ones.

These are courageous conversations that must take place in order for these students to be safe, our expectations to be realistic, and our goals for our students met. We wonder, when developing the reform agenda, if our politicians considered these realities and asked themselves these questions. We wonder, if they even had these courageous conversation and with whom? So we are left with goals, targets, and expectations that most likely are absent consideration for drug use and emotional challenges at the very least.

Now it is in our hands. Do we continue to bury our heads in the sand and push forward, unrealistically expecting that all students arrive in the morning, without having smoked pot and without struggling with serious emotional challenges? Or do we begin to face our realities and introduce those courageous conversations?

We think the answer is we must have these conversations. Beginning the conversation opens the minds of those involved. Conversations are the leadership equivalent of placing a picnic blanket down on the grass....or open a library door. Invite the folks ‘to the picnic’ who will bring food, sit there, share a meal, and views, and leave having thoughts they may not have had before the picnic. Invite those curious and caring folks to join you as you ‘enter the library’, looking for answers to important questions. This is a beginning.

Our charge is to know better, do better, and help families and the community face the truth and intervene. We must know the world our children are living in and help them maneuver through it. Drugs are part of their reality. If we do not acknowledge and shed light on these issues, talk about them, and decide how to deal with them we can not consider ourselves as having created safe places in which these children can come to learn. We do need these courageous conversations. We do.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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