DECRIMINALIZED BUT NOT BENIGN: THE HAZARDS OF MARIJUANA USE AMONG ADOLESCENT MALES
Laws in Connecticut regarding marijuana have recently changed with increased leniency for adult users. There is even more liberal legislature just 30 minutes to our north in Massachusetts. With these changes in legal outlook and (arguably) increased acceptance, what is the message being sent to the students at Avon Old Farms?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) takes a very clear stance on this subject: Marijuana is unsafe for adolescents. Approximately one in ten users of marijuana will become addicted. Yet, for users under age 18, that number increases to one in six. Even more concerning is the reality that marijuana use at a young age can result in negative and permanent impairment to brain development. The CDC confirms this, stating that “the drug may reduce attention, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.” Simply put, teenagers have brains that are not fully developed, and marijuana use can cause serious and permanent harm. Though adolescents may appear from the outside as though they are grown adults, their developing brains remain susceptible to the damaging effects of marijuana.
Risks for teenage users of marijuana include:
Difficulty with problem solving, memory, and learning
Difficulty maintaining attention
Decline in academic performance
Increased risk for mental health issues
Data also links marijuana use to lower educational achievements and school dropouts.
THE POLICY AT AVON OLD FARMS
Avon Old Farms’s policies regarding marijuana align with the CDC’s findings and recommendations. The School’s response will represent a combination of support, treatment and discipline. With the always-present objective of protecting our students and guiding them towards success, there is a zero-tolerance policy regarding marijuana use. Possession of marijuana is considered a Level 2 violation, which would typically result in:
A meeting with the Headmaster and Dean to review the facts of the incident
A suspension from the school for no less than one week
A required substance abuse evaluation by a licensed counselor
Sign a No Use Contract
Forfeit any leadership roles
Of note, the sale and/or distribution of marijuana would be considered a Level 1 violation. In addition, the impact of the incident to the community is a determining factor as to the level of the violation. Either of these could require the student to appear before the School’s Disciplinary Committee where the student would be subject to potential dismissal from the school.
If a student is looking for help with quitting prior to his use of marijuana becoming a disciplinary issue, the Health Center staff, together with the School’s counselors, can provide assistance with getting students the resources and support they need to stop using marijuana. This information will remain confidential unless the student is at risk to himself or others. In circumstances where the student or the health of the community is at risk, the Dean of Students office may be notified in order to keep the student and school safe.
As a School, it is our responsibility to provide our students with information to empower them to make healthy decisions in their lives. As such, we developed the co-curricular Prep4ward program to educate our students about marijuana and other important health risks facing adolescents today. With good information about issues that may immediately affect them, our students will be better prepared to make healthy choices in order to achieve both short-term and long-term success.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Marijuana and Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects.html
About the Author
Avon Old Farms School Health Center