Home > Uncategorized > Will Legalization of Marijuana Create More Problems for Schools Than it Solves?

Will Legalization of Marijuana Create More Problems for Schools Than it Solves?

I read with interest a Bangor Daily News public health column by addictions counselor Scott Gagnon titled “Why Sanders’ Support for Marijuana Undermines His Education Policy”. Gagnon suggests that Sanders and other liberals fail to grasp the research that links marijuana dependence with brain functioning that undercuts academic performance. Citing a Daily Caller article that had no data to substantiate its claims, Gagnon asserted:

“If Sanders were to be elected, and were to pass his plan to legalize marijuana, youth access to marijuana would be increased demonstrably, which as we have seen in Colorado, leads to increased use. And now, officials in Colorado are saying marijuana is the number one problem in schools.

Gagnon then brings the problem back to Maine, where he serves on the state Substance Abuse Services Commission.

Data from the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey indicates that nearly 49.8% of students who were getting mostly D’s and Fs in school, reported using marijuana in the past 30 days.  Clearly, marijuana is a barrier to education.  It is a reason Mainers must give careful consideration to the question of legalization.  It is also begs the question as to why Sanders would support such a policy around marijuana.

I worked for six years as an administrator in Maine, from 1977 though 1983, serving three years as HS Principal and three years as Superintendent. During that time period, we launched the War on Drugs. After three plus decades, it’s clear that drugs are winning. Drug use remains the same, their impact remains the same, and the majority of parents and citizens who don’t abuse drugs see their abuse as a moral failing and not a disease. In fact, the impact of drug use is no worse than the impact of alcohol use and abuse on teens, and the root cause of the abuse of each is identical: some children have a predisposition to addictive behavior that should be channeled into positive cycles and not negative ones.

Sanders’ support for legalization is based on the practical reality that one reason our prisons are full of non-violent offenders is our failed War on Drugs. He sees that the War has had a far more devastating effect on black young men than it has on whites. He knows that drug abuse is a disease that needs to be treated and not a moral failing that needs to be corrected with ever increasing punishment.

Here’s what I observed in the late 1970s in Maine:

  • The student drug dealers were not viewed as outcasts. They were viewed as outlaws whose daring was begrudgingly admired by many of the “jocks” and “preppies”, outlaws who were sought out on weekends when the “good kids” wanted to experiment with drugs.
  • Not all students who experimented with marijuana became regular users any more than students who experimented with alcohol became alcoholics.
  • Parents seeking to avoid having their children use drugs would often host parties where alcohol was served and keys taken away from students so they wouldn’t drive under the influence. This was viewed as morally superior to having their children seeking out drug dealers.
  • SOME parents who used marijuana regularly at home saw nothing wrong with their children using the drugs… at home. There were several instances where a parent scolded their child for “using that stuff in school”.
  • Many community members favored spending money to police schools to help fight “the war” but were not willing to fund drug counselors to treat the illness.

It has been over 30 years since I worked in Maine, but my sense from working in public schools in New England for over a decade since leaving Maine is that nothing has changed and maybe we should re-frame the whole “War” into a “Contagion” and start treating the disease of addiction as early as possible. One thing we know after 30+ years: incarceration does not solve the problem.


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