Schools Say They’re Prepared for Marijuana Legalization

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According to the California Department of Public Health, cannabis use among adolescents can have adverse consequences on memory and learning, and is believed to lower intelligence and school performance. Likewise, California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy’s Youth Education and Prevention Working Group stated in a 2015 report that, “Regular or excessive cannabis use among youth can be associated with reduced educational attainment.”

To curb youth access to marijuana, the Blue Ribbon Commission recommended strict enforcement of age restrictions, regulation of the number, type and location of retail outlets, limiting the sale of marijuana edibles in the form of candy, and restrictions on advertising and marketing. The Commission identified price controls as a potential tool for preventing youth access, as young people tend to lack sufficient disposable income to regularly purchase expensive products.

The Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, established by a 2015 San Francisco ordinance, issued a report last year similarly detailing ways to restrict youth access to marijuana once it’s legalized.  Some Task Force recommendations would require state actions, such as directing revenue from cannabis taxes to fund youth education programs, as well as substance use prevention and treatment. The Task Force highlighted risks associated with marijuana in edible form, such as inadvertent consumption by young children, and suggested reinforced packaging of such products.

Given that marijuana, along with alcohol, has been regularly consumed for decades, Federica Lentini, early childhood director at La Scuola, a preschool to eighth grade school with campuses on 20th Street and Fell Street, doesn’t anticipate much will change for students after legalization. “Dogpatch is a really unique neighborhood, and when we moved here in 2008 there were a lot more people smoking on the streets, but now the neighborhood is changing and there are more families moving in, so I don’t think it will become more of a problem,” Lentini commented.

According to Lentini, La Scuola isn’t opposed to marijuana legalization, but wants to ensure that children are safe. She cited the proximity of the 22 Muni bus stop near the 20th Street campus as an ongoing issue. She said that during hot weather, when it’s desirable to keep school building windows open for ventilation, the school instead often has to keep them shut to prevent air pollution from smokers waiting for the bus.

Nate Lundy, dean of student life at Live Oak School on Mariposa Street, hopes that the City will invest heavily in education aimed at school-aged kids to dispel rumors, both positive and negative, about marijuana, and to equip young people with the knowledge to make good decisions. “I would love to see education directed at young people so that they understand that this is still a drug, just like cigarettes are a drug, and that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s something that they should do,” Lundy said.

Lundy explained that because Live Oak already has a robust chemical dependency prevention program, they’re not changing the curriculum in advance of adult legalization. He said the school offers media literacy classes that address how students can avoid getting desensitized to the way drugs are portrayed in the media and to fully understand the psychological impact that these representations can have. The program includes a parental education segment, so that parents are equipped to have conversations about drugs at home.

“Our middle schoolers are really well informed about these issues, and for us as a school it’s about helping our kids understand the realities so they know how to respond to situations when they’re outside of school, like if they see someone using drugs in Jackson Park or if they see heroin needles on the ground. We help teach them to be aware of their surroundings.”

San Francisco Unified School District schools also have curriculum in place to address youth exposure to marijuana and other drugs. “Project Towards No Drug Abuse” teaches high school students about the potential academic, social and emotional risks of drug use, and explains how marijuana can adversely impact developing brains. Health education classes are offered to provide students with the foundation to make good choices about drugs and alcohol. For middle school grades, teachers use a “Second Step” curriculum to teach students to avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse, bullying, cyber bullying and peer pressure. Wellness Centers at many SFUSD high schools offer drug use counseling, and train students to become peer educators around substance abuse issues.

“SFUSD has been educating students about drugs, alcohol and addiction for decades,” Gentle Blythe, school district chief communications officer, wrote in a statement. “Other than clarifying what they say about the legality of marijuana for adults, our teachers will continue to provide students with standards-based health education curriculum to address tobacco and other drugs, including marijuana.”

According to a 16-year old who attends an independent high school in San Francisco, little is said about drug use at her school other than to not engage in it on campus.  “I think more should be done,” she said.  “Most teenagers I know don’t talk to their parents about drugs or sex.  And most of the parties, at Ocean Beach or homes, revolve around heavy weed smoking and alcohol use, with everybody on top of one another.  And forget about Dolores Park, which always has a fog of weed smell hanging over it, and people looking to sell it.  It’s hard to find a good place to hang and meet people without being surrounded and pressured by marijuana smokers and drinkers.”

Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, has provisions that seek to minimize youth access and exposure to marijuana. For example, cannabis businesses can’t be located within 600 feet of schools, day care centers and youth centers that’re in existence at the time of licensing; local authorities can establish a different radius. Individuals are prohibited from consuming marijuana on school grounds when children are present or smoking within 1,000 feet of campuses when children are present, except on private property. In addition to labelling and packaging restrictions on edible cannabis products to protect children, individual edible servings may not exceed 10 milligrams of Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis products.