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In Time Of Varying Laws, Forum Focuses On Youth Marijuana Usage

Jim Levulis
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

Laws regarding the sale and use of marijuana vary across the country. The issue of the drug’s use among teens was the topic of a talk in Lenox, Massachusetts Wednesday.

While Colorado and Washington allow the recreational use of marijuana and states like Massachusetts have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes, the federal government considers it a Schedule I drug. That puts it in the same category as drugs like heroin. The legal uncertainty creates confusion for teens according to a countywide study cited by Lenox Public Schools superintendent Edward Costa.

“The kids right now are confused and rightly so,” Costa said. “They’re hearing that there’s a medical use. So they’re not equating marijuana to the same standard of tobacco. They’ve answered unanimously that tobacco is not good for you biologically and yet they’ve answered differently for marijuana.”

The study was discussed at a forum Wednesday night that drew more than 75 parents and students. The event’s guest speaker was Rick Cresta, a clinical social worker and professor at theBoston University School of Social Work.

“My point of agreement is marijuana, and I believe this, may cause less harm than all other drugs including alcohol, but that does not mean it’s harmless,” said Cresta.

Cresta says because of its federal classification, it’s very difficult to get funding to study the effects of marijuana in the United States. Most of the findings come from foreign countries. Cresta says the legality question and the uncertainty of the drug’s effects cause confusion for parents as well as their teens.

“Parental views are different about marijuana than all other drugs,” Cresta explained. “So if someone had a kid who was drinking every day, the parent would not rest until they did something about that. If someone has a kid whose smoking weed every day, they’re concerned. But, it’s different and I will say there’s less urgency.”

Cresta’s talk focused on preventing teens from chronic marijuana usage, defined as little as 2-3 times a week. He says studies have shown that until age 24, the brain is still developing and the compound THC found in marijuana damages the prefrontal cortex which supports long-term planning, problem-solving and emotional stability.

“If I use weed to help me chill and its working, well guess what?” he said. “Stress is going to be part of my life forever. So if I haven’t learned other ways then I will become or I am dependent on marijuana.”

Cresta says with potential medical benefits, indirect negative impacts and a public view that is acceptingly undecided, marijuana is different than most other substances. Rich Woller is the father of a Lenox senior.

“There’s not as many resources in the community for addressing addictive marijuana use, but there are enormous resources for addressing alcohol use,” Waller said. “I think that is a key difference.”

Elias Williams is a freshman at Lenox. He says the perception of marijuana as being less dangerous than other drugs has led to increased use among teens.

“I’d say alcohol is more of a common thing where drugs are more frowned upon,” Williams said. “But, I’d say marijuana is paired with alcohol in terms of not as serious.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health awarded provisional licenses to 20 medical marijuana dispensaries in February. The 2012 voter-approved law allows for a maximum of 35 dispensaries statewide with at least one in each of the commonwealth’s 14 counties.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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