As recreational marijuana and vaping use among young people continue to make headlines, Geneva High School set out to fill a growing interest in how both can affect teens’ health.
A Nov. 21 presentation at the high school provided the district’s parents and other community members the opportunity to learn from and ask questions of a health expert.
In his remarks to the crowd, Geneva High School principal Tom Rogers said the main gist of the program is to get people to understand what can be done to keep community youth healthy once the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act goes into effect.
Starting on Jan. 1, recreational marijuana will be legal to use for those above the age of 21 years old in Illinois.
Matthew Quinn, a certified drug and alcohol counselor and a community relations coordinator for Rosecrance, said it’s important not to become complacent.
“The perception amongst a lot of young people now [as far as] what their perception of marijuana is versus alcohol, it’s a lot different with a lot of young people where there’s just this surge of acceptance and popularity,” he said. “In a lot of ways, alcohol is just kind of boring.”
Quinn said it’s important for people to understand that alcohol, nicotine and marijuana will be on the same footing in the coming months.
“We can’t be naïve about this cultural surge that’s happening with marijuana and think that the 16-year-old thinks it’s not a big deal,” he said.
Quinn turned to address the vaping epidemic, saying young people are distinguishing a difference between smoking cigarettes and vaping when they shouldn’t.
“There’s a huge disconnect there in terms of the students,” he said. “That terminology change from e-cigarettes to vapes, there’s this huge gulf that got created, in terms of distancing from cigarettes and kids thinking of it like in a whole different light, not recognizing that there a lot more similar than kids want to think about, know about, or are even aware of.”
Quinn made mention of the risks and consequences youth can expose themselves to when they vape or smoke.
A slideshow presentation during the program shows the nation has faced 42 vaping-related deaths and more than 2,000 diagnosed with breathing-related illnesses. It also highlighted how 70% of the cases occurred in states with legalized marijuana.
Geneva resident John O’Halloran said he felt compelled to sit in on the presentation. He believes legalizing recreational marijuana will make matters worse.
“I have seven grandchildren who are going to be faced with all these issues,” O’Halloran said. “Once recreational marijuana is legalized, I’m concerned about the effect it’ll have and how they’ll handle the exposure to marijuana.”
Quinn made mention of the medicinal benefits to marijuana and how it complicates efforts to keep community youth healthy. He said that decriminalizing marijuana isn’t the argument to have.
“I think the idea of this war on drugs, the billions we put into it, I think, it is valuable to look at it differently and not just try to arrest our way out of it,” Quinn said.
At the same time, Quinn said it’s important to recognize why marijuana became illegal to begin with and wanted it to be clear that legalizing it for recreational use is an argument worth having.
“It’s not clean,” he said. “It’s messy; it’s political; it’s racist; it’s ugly. But that doesn’t mean kids should be doing it, right? But I think it’s important to acknowledge that.”
Quinn said the marijuana of years past is not the same as what people are using in today’s world.
“When we talk about the legalization and this perception of harm going way down, we’re also looking at the potency going through the roof,” he said.
When asked how the school may adjust the disciplinary actions applied to students who violate the district’s drug policy, Rogers said the consequences remain the same because marijuana is in the same category as any other drug.
“This law doesn’t have any impact on what we’re doing because it’s still illegal,” he said. “It always has been, and it’s going to continue to because only at age 21 does it become legal. Our consequences are not changing from that standpoint.”
O’Halloran said the presentation provided a number of takeaways.
“I keep learning more and more about the components and the effects on the brain,” he said.
The hope, Rogers said, is the district can keep the conversation going.
“We are constantly, in my opinion, but unfortunately fighting an uphill battle trying to keep our youth healthy, and this new law is not going to make that prospect any easier,” he said. “I hope that we choose not to make it readily available in our community because the more readily available it is, in my opinion, the more difficult it’s going to be to keep our youth healthy.”