As marijuana laws change, more teens think drugs are safe

Utah police, addiction experts fear shift in attitudes

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8 2014 5:35 p.m. MST

A handful of Salt Lake high schoolers who spoke to the Deseret News Friday all said they are aware of marijuana use among fellow students, although some said they haven't seen a dramatic increase.

“It’s definitely really prevalent,” said East High junior Jake Kimball, who described marijuana usage as "trendy." “I feel like at some point in anyone’s high school career that they’ve encountered it, definitely — especially in this day and age.”

“People definitely come to school high,” Jacob Adamson, another East High student, said. “That’s definitely a thing.”

Senior Brandon Reemsnyder said marijuana has been “a big thing” at Judge High School since he was a freshman. “I know groups that I could go to that they would refer me,” if he wanted to get marijuana, he said.

“It’s sort of just in the background,” added student Keegan Dohm. “It’s not worse than it ever has been, but it’s always been there.”

“We do drug testing and stuff here,” said Judge High School senior Sean McMinimee. “So that acts as like a huge deterrent for almost everybody in the school.”

The Utah State Health Department recently released results of its 2013 Prevention Needs Assessment Survey for Salt Lake County. The survey questioned students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 39 districts and 14 charter schools to measure drug and alcohol usage and other anti-social behaviors.

The survey found that while the percentage of 10th-grade students using alcohol dropped in 2013 from a 2011 survey, it increased for marijuana use. The overall percentage of those who had used alcohol during their lifetime was still greater than those who had used marijuana. But the percentage of 10th-graders who admitted using marijuana at least once in the past 30 days surpassed those who drank alcohol.

For 12th-graders, the percentage of those using marijuana at least once over the past 30 days stayed relatively the same, according to the survey.

Statewide, the survey found that the percentage of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders who admitted using marijuana at least once over the past 30 days had increased since 2011, while the use of alcohol during that time declined. The percentage of eighth- and 10th-graders who admitted smoking marijuana at least once in their lifetime also increased statewide from 2011 to 2013. But the number of 12th-graders smoking marijuana took a sharp drop.

Nationwide, 36.4 pecent of 12th-graders said they used marijuana during the previous year, according to a 2013 study by the University of Michigan reprinted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Interestingly, the Institute also reported that alcohol use among teens remained at "historically low levels," and cigarette use had also dropped.

Teen justification

The problem with high school students who smoke marijuana, Zidow said, is they don't believe it will adversely affect them.

"I think with teenagers there's always that issue of ... 'something bad is not going happen to me.' There's the magical thinking that just comes with that developmental stage," she said. "And then there's a lot of justification around different drugs: 'Oh, marijuana is natural, it's a dried plant. And now that it's being legalized in other places, it must not be that bad for you if they're letting everyone in Colorado smoke it.'"

But what teens don't realize, Zidow said, is they're still developing.

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