Michele Levine is a longtime educator who has worked in schools and education non profits. She has been on the ground in schools and camp settings working with youth, teens, college students and young adults from all backgrounds while being a high school teacher in the South Bronx, a private school administrator, to working with teens in Oakland public schools.
Michele is focused on the education, policy, and the information being discussed about legalization, the medicinal benefits of cannabis, and how cannabis education and information is being discussed and delivered to teens, parents, teachers, and communities. HelloMD is very excited to have Michele as a featured guest blogger. In her first article Michele gives her thoughts on how to talk to teens about cannabis.
From Illegal to Acceptance…How Do We Talk About it with Young People?
We’re witnessing a social shift in acceptance for cannabis use from being something illegal to something with medicinal benefits and accepted for adult-recreational use in some states. This creates an opportunity for parents and adults to engage young people on a topic that is both current and relevant for everyone involved. This is a teachable moment, a chance to have real-time, meaningful conversations about social change, cannabis use and wellness, rules and regulations, and consequences for illegal or misuse of a regulated substance.
During my time working with teens and young adults, I was sometimes the only adult in their life who took the time to listen to them. Many of them discussed topics with me that they would not feel comfortable discussing with their parents such as relationship issues, personal/self esteem concerns, and the challenges of being a young person in a modern, social-media infested world. As you can imagine, I’ve been told many things and asked a variety of questions.
As any adult knows when working with impressionable young people, it’s important to stay open, non judgmental, and curious about what is being discussed. Despite your concern or disapproval, one thing you can’t do is lecture or give reasons that are not meaningful or relevant to their lives.
This is a Teachable Moment….
Here are some good starting questions, for yourself first, and then for engagement with any young person in your life.
- What does cannabis legalization mean?
- What do we know about Cannabis now, that has created this shift in thinking?
- Why now?
- How will these changes impact society?
- What are the consequences of illegal use?
- How can something legal be abused?
- What does marijuana abuse look like?
The Prevalence of Cannabis- It’s Already Here
Given that marijuana was so prevalent, even before the current status of legalization/future legalization, many young people view legalization as nothing more than a rubber stamp and do not understand the significance of illegal use. While research shows that using marijuana during adolescence could have a long-term impact on a teen’s memory, problem-solving skills and critical thinking, it’s becoming clear that information has little to no effect on teen use.
In Talking to Kids About Legal Marijuana, Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director for Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment, says “What doesn’t work is hammering children over the head with how, medically speaking, marijuana is bad for the developing brain. The research shows that that’s like a turn off.”
Focus On Immediate Consequences
Instead of focusing on the long term health risks, getting caught using cannabis under the age of 21 can have serious and immediate consequences:
- School Consequences: Student could be suspended or expelled. Student could be suspended from a sports team. This could affect scholarship and college opportunities. School may require drug counseling.
- Legal Consequences: Breaking state/federal laws. Youth could receive a possession charge and/or fines, public service, drug counseling, loss of driver's license, and a misdemeanor or felony charge on personal records. This could affect future job opportunities, apartment rentals, and/or result in loss of college financial aid.
With Legalization, Comes Adult Responsibility
Be prepared to have open and honest conversations about cannabis use, legalization, and consequences of misuse. Understand your state and local Cannabis policies. Learn from other cities and schools on best practices around education and understanding of Cannabis Legalization. Here are some excellent resources:
- The Drug Policy Alliance supports reality-based youth drug education that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of young people. Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs
- Preventing Youth Marijuana Use in Colorado: Information for Schools
- Know your state and local policies and initiatives. Marijuana Policy Project
It Takes a Village; In Partnership
Our schools, local government agencies, and cannabis-related companies share a responsibility in educating our youth, teens, and communities on cannabis legalization, responsible adult use, and consequences of teen use and abuse. Since local city governments dictate local cannabis laws and regulations and school districts operate as independent entities through state and federal funding/requirements, upcoming Cannabis legalization is an opportunity for our communities to take collective action and responsibility on educating and protecting our youth. Local Cannabis companies can support the initiative through marketing and public outreach.
As a community, let’s seize this opportunity of Cannabis legalization to grow and develop community collaborations, create space for education and professional opportunities, and take collective action and responsibility for the safety of our youth, schools, and neighborhoods.
If you would like to connect with Michele, connect with her on her LinkedIn.