Weed is legal: How does that impact Oak Park?

Marijuana is now legal in California.

January 31, 2018

The use of recreational marijuana became legal under California state legislature Nov. 8, 2017. Recreational marijuana sales commenced with the beginning of the new year.

The response to the legalization of recreational marijuana has already been tremendous. According to CNN, California marijuana sales are predicted to hit 7 billion dollars — greater than sales for the entire country in 2016.

California’s legalization of marijuana comes as part of a growing push to legalize what used to be considered a class one drug. California was the fifth among six states to legalize recreational marijuana, and has been one of 29 states to legalize marijuana usage for medical purposes.

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With growing accessibility, however, comes concern. Despite a 21-year minimum age-of-purchase for recreational marijuana, there are concerns teenagers may obtain and use marijuana, leading to detrimental effects on the developing mind. Indeed, many studies conducted on this subject suggest that marijuana can have harmful effects in both the short and long term.

According to the American Psychological Association, “in the short term, marijuana use has been shown to impair functions such as attention, memory, learning and decision-making. Those effects can last for days after the high wears off. Heavy marijuana use in adolescence or early adulthood has been associated with a dismal set of life outcomes including poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased welfare dependence, greater unemployment and lower life satisfaction.”

The studies often attribute this to the ever-changing, ever-growing nature of the adolescent brain.

The APA writes that “during this period of neurodevelopment, the brain is thought to be particularly sensitive to damage from drug exposure. And the frontal cortex — the region critical to planning, judgment, decision-making and personality — is one of the last areas to fully develop.”

This has led to numerous efforts to create curriculum change and extended education on the potential effects of these drugs. Life Skills and Advanced Placement Psychology teacher Jeff Appell says that while Oak Park High School health-related classes do a good job of addressing these subjects, more needs to be added.

“In general, health classes do an excellent job teaching about the facts of drug use,” Appell wrote to the Talon. “In regards to Life Skills, marijuana-use and its dangers have always been in the curriculum, as has nicotine and other drugs. Vaping seems to be getting more attention among teens now and needs to be added into health curriculums.”

While these concerns exist, Appell says that he doesn’t believe that the increased accessibility of recreational marijuana will have a significant impact on the school community.

“I don’t think that legalization will make much of a difference for using marijuana among teenagers. Those who want to use it generally have been able to get it in the past in spite of it being illegal,” Appell wrote. “The only thing it might do is increase use among already heavy users.”

Appell especially cautions against one particular aspect of drug use — one that he says is covered heavily in the Life Skills class.

“The legalization of marijuana is not a major issue in Life Skills with the exception of the safety of driving,” Appell wrote. “Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, car accidents have increased dramatically. The correlation exists and it’s important to stay vigilant about this in the education of students.”

OPHS counselor Julie Ross agreed with Appell, saying that the impact is yet to be seen, but that she doesn’t feel that legalized recreational marijuana will have a significant effect on the student populous.

“I believe in Colorado that they found that it opened the door to more parents smoking, while the number of teenagers stayed relatively the same,” Ross said. “So, kids still have the same access. If you look at our school, the kids have to be age 21, so they’re getting it illegally anyways.”

The counselors and peer counselors work to educate the student body on this subject.

“Advanced peer counseling actually holds a seminar for the freshmen every year about this. They always do a unit on marijuana and vaping,” Ross said. “And because vaping is now the big issue, and nicotine, we’re hosting an assembly on that on February 23.”

Ross says that the school has systems in place to assist those who may be struggling with marijuana use.

“Well, if they come and see a counselor, it’s confidential,” Ross said. “If they’re saying ‘I think I might have a problem,’ we would assist them in [providing] resources, assessing them to see if they do have a problem and I would be strong to say that if you are using on a regular basis [on school days], you have a problem. There’s a difference between recreational use and abuse.”


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