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Macomb County

May 6, 2013

Information campaign aimed at teen marijuana use

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

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Information campaign aimed at teen marijuana use
A panel at the April 29 kickoff presentation of the “Mobilizing Michigan” campaign discussed the effects of marijuana on teens.

A coalition of local leaders and anti-drug coalitions recently gathered to launch a statewide education campaign aimed at reducing marijuana use among youths.

Responding to reports of increased marijuana use among teens, two Macomb County anti-drug coalitions launched an informational campaign on April 29 about marijuana use among youth with a kickoff presentation attended by U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, Macomb Prosecutor Eric Smith, Macomb Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and representatives from local substance abuse prevention groups.

Coalition officials said the legalization of medical marijuana — and, in some states, legalization for recreational use — have lessened the perceived risk of marijuana among teens, which has translated to an increase in use, said Charlene McGunn, executive director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families.

Hoping to jump-start a research-based dialogue about teen marijuana use, the Chippewa Valley Coalition and the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse launched the “Mobilizing Michigan — Protecting Our Kids from Marijuana” campaign to provide informational materials to parents, teachers and others.

McGunn said the campaign was created to interject into the public dialogue statistics about the dangers of kids using marijuana.

“We are very, very concerned about what we’re seeing and hearing from kids, and what we’re getting in survey data,” she said, alluding to research that indicates teen marijuana use has increased during the last four years. “(Teens) believe that it’s safe because that’s what they think they’ve heard.”

She said statistics link marijuana use among middle school and high school students to negative effects on brain development and school performance.

According to the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future study, teen marijuana use has steadily increased during the last four years but, without explanation, leveled off in 2012. The recent rise was preceded by a gradual, roughly decade-long decline in use.

Lloyd Johnston, lead researcher on the study, said the 2012 leveling may just be a pause before the incline continues, since the study also shows that the perceived risk of marijuana has been falling.

The study also found that 6.5 percent of high school seniors, about one out of 15, uses marijuana at least 20 times a month, compared to 5 percent in 2006 and 1.9 percent in the early 1990s, Johnston said.

Weeks away from her high school graduation, 17-year-old Nicole Beller has noticed this increase of marijuana usage among her fellow students since her freshman year, she said.

Beller, a senior at Henry Ford II High School, said she believes that some of the shift in mentality among her peers is partly linked to laws that seemingly make marijuana appear more acceptable. In November 2008, when she was beginning her freshman year in high school, Michigan voters passed a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana.

Beller is a member of Teens Talking Truth, a student group  hosted through the Fraser-based nonprofit CARE of Southeastern Michigan that puts on programming aimed at educating fellow teens about tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

Matthew Abel, executive director of Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said he agreed that marijuana should not be used by minors, but said the reason it was so pervasive in schools is because the substance is illegal. It would be better, he said, to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults.

“With there being a black market (for marijuana), it drives it underground and makes it more accessible to children,” he said, adding that it also gives them access to other types of illegal substances, since people who are willing to sell marijuana illegally could be likely to sell minors other substances illegally.

CARE CEO and President Monique Stanton said the 2008 legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan sent mixed messages to kids that, because it was passed for medical use, the substance was good for you. Some even were confused about whether it was legal or not, she added.

“I think this campaign will do a good job of bringing some of those issues to the forefront,” Stanton said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.