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Our View: With pot use up, is drug testing in schools far behind?

Our View
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Teenagers are smoking marijuana in greater numbers every year. So says the Monitoring the Future Survey, presented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan. It’s a trend Placer High School students appear to confirm. “Pretty much everyone I know has or still does smoke,” a 15-year-old Placer freshman told the Auburn Journal, which didn’t release her name because she’s a minor. “They do it for their own social (group), to fit in with the people they want to be with. Sometimes smoking weed is a way of getting in with their crowd.” In an era in which medicinal use of marijuana is rampant, and legalization of the illicit drug in California came within about 345,000 votes of passing in November — only 3.5 percent of those casting ballots — two questions come to mind: Is anyone surprised? What can be done about it? According to the study, the proportion of eighth-grade students using all forms of illicit drugs in the past year rose significantly, to 16 percent of students. Use by 10th- and 12th-grade students rose two percentage points, to 30 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Marijuana was the overwhelming drug of choice. The statistics bear a dangerous relationship. The earlier students begin smoking pot, the more likely they are to continue — a multiplier effect setting off alarm bells. “One possible explanation for the resurgence in marijuana use,” the institute said, “is that in recent years fewer teens report seeing much danger associated with its use, even with regular use. Possibly as a result, fewer teens have shown disapproval of marijuana use over the past two or three years. Both perceived risk and disapproval continued to decline in all three grades this year.” While the 1970s and early ’80s brought the series of “Up in Smoke” films by the comedy team of Cheech & Chong, recent years have sparked a revival of the “stoner genre” with “Smiley Face,” Harold & Kumar films and “Pineapple Express,” a comedy starring Seth Rogen. Watching people smoke pot can be funny, but there’s nothing funny about getting caught. Placer High has seen an increase in marijuana-related incidents during the past year, said assistant Principal Gary Pantaleoni. A first offense can lead to a five-day suspension. A second offense can lead to expulsion. One controversial method to detect — and possibly deter — marijuana use would be random drug testing of high school students. Maybe even earlier, as one New Jersey school district has decided. The Belvidere Board of Education voted last week to extend its drug-testing policy to include the district’s elementary school, allowing students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades to volunteer for random drug testing. At every grade level, student participation requires consent from parents and child. Under the policy, any student who tests positive will be provided in-school counseling, but would not be punished with suspension or expulsion. Police are not notified as well. While the New Jersey policy has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims random testing does not curb teen drug use, the policy has received positive response from Belvidere parents. Would such a policy be embraced by the Placer Union High School Board of Trustees? Would they, and local high school teachers, join in the pledge for random drug testing? Would local parents volunteer as well, forming an agreement with their children to remain drug free through the high school years? They could both use the discounted drug and alcohol tests being sold by the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association (see story, page A1). As with other drug trends, marijuana use among teens may turn the other way, but in California’s permissive culture of medicinal use and potential legalization, will our children buck such a downward trend? Something to think, and question, in the years ahead.