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Students say marijuana easy to get

Cory Fisher

“Pot’s always going to be there,” said a South Tahoe High School student who was recently caught with marijuana. “I bet 80 percent of teens use it. But I was dumb to bring it to school.”

“Older kids rarely do it at school – most of them aren’t that stupid,” said a STHS junior. “It’s mainly the freshman who get busted – they’re naive and want to be cool. I’d say about 60 percent of students here smoke regularly, but not on campus.”

“It’s easy to get, just ask your friends,” said one senior. “They know who to talk to and they can hook you up off campus.”

Marijuana has been popular among teens for decades. Now, with a president who admits to “not inhaling,” the passage of California’s Proposition 215 and parents who grew up in the age of Timothy Leary, many of South Tahoe’s young people don’t seem convinced that marijuana could become a destructive force in their lives.

Suspensions are up this year at South Tahoe High School, with more than 30 students cited for use or possession of a controlled substance. Six students were busted for marijuana this month.

“My guess is that 35 to 40 percent of students smoke pot – that’s a safe guess,” said junior Alicia Brown. “Pot’s probably here to stay.”

“It’s just something to do when you’re bored – it’s social,” said one junior. “I know kids who smoke and get 4.0s – it doesn’t affect grades.”

Comments like these are not uncommon, says Barbara Caskey, a mental health clinician for Family Solutions. “If pot makes a kid feel good temporarily, often his mind-set will be ‘It doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s my body, my life.’ But what they don’t think about is that it establishes a structure for many other kinds of behavior. If you break the law once and get away with it, it’s easier to rationalize the behavior next time. It’s the same with shoplifting or even not doing your homework.”

Marijuana often serves as the gateway to “underground behavior,” Caskey said, or that which is not shared with adults.

“The popularity of pot waxes and wanes, but it’s always perceived as a rebellious drug,” she said. “If you’re anti-authority, you smoke pot. It’s a statement.”

This year, South Tahoe High School has begun working regularly with Family Solutions, a first-time offender counseling program that includes counselors from Sierra Recovery, The El Dorado County Department of Social Services and the El Dorado County Department of Probation.

“We’re thrilled with the new program,” said Assistant Superintendent Barbara Davis. “Often punitive action, like expulsions, don’t solve the problem – it just gives them more unsupervised time on the streets. This is much more effective than being temporarily kicked out of school.”

Students who are first-time offenders are referred to the program, Caskey said, and the entire family is often asked to attend.

“We do some individual counseling, but our goal is to intervene early and quickly enough when they’re first cited. Hopefully we can prevent future citations or incarcerations and get the family back in line.”

The program is voluntary, hopefully bringing a “higher level of commitment.” However, if families do not attend, they could be court-ordered to participate in other programs.

Funded by a California juvenile crime prevention grant, Caskey said the state is tracking juveniles and measuring outcomes from similarly funded programs like Family Solutions. The result? “They’re seeing extraordinary successes around the state,” she said.

John Wareham, a Family Solutions counselor who spends most of his days at the high school, says peer pressure is worse than the temptations of drugs or alcohol. “Most kids in juvenile hall are there because they wanted to prove to some older kid that they were cool,” he said. “That’s the toughest nut for us to crack. If kids don’t get support at home, they’re raised by their peers.”

Citing a recent study, Wareham said:

— 8 percent of first offenders are from tough backgrounds with an already entrenched criminal mentality.

— 70 percent of first offenders are scared straight from getting caught and are never cited again.

— 22 percent are “riding the fence,” meaning, without intervention, they are at high risk to become repeat offenders.

“We’re targeting that 22 percent,” Wareham said. “The goal of the grant is to work intensively with 70 families a year. Many families are hopping from one crisis to another – the amount of drug use in town is phenomenal. We’ve seen some successes and that’s encouraging, but you’re not going to win them all.”


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