How Recreational Marijuana Affects California Schools

Part 2: Rampant Marijuana Use on Middle School and High School Campuses

Narration: Dr. Brown has two sons. The older one grew up in Texas. He graduated high school with honors and got a law degree from the Rice University. He now enjoys a successful career as a diplomat. She never expected that her younger son, born and raised in California, would take a drastically different path.

Christy Brown: He told me that older kids had given it to him when he was in middle school. And they got it from medical marijuana dispensaries.

Narration: Medical marijuana had long been legalized in California by the time Dr. Brown’s son started using it. But adults from 18-21 can only get medical marijuana through their primary caregiver—theoretically.

Christy Brown: They went to a doctor and they would say, I can’t sleep or I have some pain and the doctor can’t really test for that. And it’s not their regular doctor, it was what they call a pot doctor, so basically, everybody knew this is a kind of scam.

Narration: It is a scam that doesn’t seem to bother most people. After all, marijuana is generally perceived as a non-harmful herb that makes you feel good.

Soundbite: Medical Marijuana is non-addictive and non-habit-forming. Medical relief can be administered instantaneously. Side effects can include euphoria, a sense of well-being, love, and extreme happiness…

Narration: According to the “Monitoring the Future” study, among all grades, perceptions of harm and disapproval of marijuana use has continued to decrease over the past 20 years.

Christy Brown: Because all of the other kids were doing it, he thought he didn’t have a problem. So this whole culture of you know, it’s okay, marijuana is not harmful, you know, you can do these things, it’s going to be legal soon anyway, that’s another thing that he would say. It is not harmful, I can’t die, I can’t overdose. Those kind of things, he used to give me this kind of reasons why it was okay for him to do it.

Narration: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use can lead to problems, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases. Thirty percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four and seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. Dr. Brown’s son falls into this category. He got increasingly addicted to marijuana in his high school years when he used it multiple times a day. He progressed to running away from home to avoid treatment and getting arrested for bringing marijuana to school. By the time he was approaching 18, Dr. Brown had to face a bigger challenge.

Christy Brown: We told him, when you get to be 18 in California, you can get a medical marijuana card, and you can use medical marijuana. This was true before legalization. And a lot of friends of his were talking about getting these cards so they could use marijuana recreationally.

Narration: When Dr. Brown’s son turned 18, she realized that reality was worse than what she originally feared.

Christy Brown: I found out that he was actually hanging around these marijuana dispensaries, and he started working for someone who grew marijuana. And he started making money actually by making hash oil. It’s a very dangerous thing because you have to use butane. And there’s a lot of hash oil explosions, I’ve read about them that they’ve had explosions where houses have burned down, people have been killed. And it actually become illegal in California.

Narration: On Nov. 8, 2016, recreational marijuana was legalized in California. Marijuana dispensaries sprawled in metropolitan areas in Southern and Northern California. Schools quickly felt their presence.

Narration: The Fremont Unified School District is one of Northern California’s star districts. It is made up of 42 schools serving nearly 35,000 students in grades K-12. It had 14 National Merit Scholars and 11 California Gold Ribbon Schools in 2016. Since late 2016, the District Councilor, Yang Shao, saw a distinct change.

Shao Yang: After the adult recreational marijuana was legalized two years ago, the school district has been collecting data on how rampant the marijuana abuse is on our campuses. And data shows that there’s been at least a 12 percent increase on average for the last three years, which indicates that more and more students are using marijuana on campus. Not only that, they also sell marijuana. Many of the students get expelled because of the sales of marijuana on campus.

Narration: According to Marijuana Business Daily, as of July 2018, an estimated 70 percent of cities and counties in California had actually prohibited cannabis companies of any type from setting up shop in their jurisdictions. But major metropolitan areas are exceptions. On Nov. 28, 2017, at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, Katy Tang tried three times to impose a buffer zone for marijuana dispensaries, drug dispensaries, and daycares. They were all turned down.

Katy Tang: So the first one is the thousand-foot buffer zone, and including daycare center as defined by the California health and safety code.

London Breed: No other questions about this amendment, madam clerk, on this item. Please call the roll.
Clerk: Supervisor Breed: no; Supervisor Cohen: no; supervisor Farrell: no; supervisor Fewer: No; Supervisor Kim: aye, Supervisor Peskin: no; supervisor Ronen: no; supervisor Safai: aye; supervisor Shihi: no; supervisor Tang: aye; supervisor Yee: aye. There are 4 ayes and 7 nos, with supervisors Breed, Cohen, Farrell, Fewer, Peskin, Ronen, and Shihi in the dissent. The amendment fails.
Katy Tang: Given that that previous motion failed, I just wanted to put it back to 1000-foot radius without daycare centers, which is what we have right now.

Clerk: There are 5 ayes and 6 nos … The motion fails.

Katy Tang: Okay, thank you. I promise this will be the last one on the buffer zone. Okay, so my next motion then would be 600-feet buffer zone.

Clerk: There are 5 ayes and 6 nos … The amendment fails.

Narration: Supervisor Tang’s motions were not only turned down. Her colleagues passionately disagreed with them.

Hillary Ronen: I think by expanding the limits around schools and daycare centers, what we’re saying is that there’s something inherently dangerous or bad about these shops, I just really disagree with that premise. I actually think that the war on drugs has been what has been dangerous for our society. There is documented evidence, plenty of it showing that where you make drugs legal and regulate them, and prevent kids from getting access to them, and allow people who are already addicted to substances, not penalize those individuals, that they use less drugs and get better, and that neighborhoods get safer. In Portugal, where all drugs are legal, they’ve seen the society transformed and crime go down.

Narration: At that meeting, supervisor Ronen’s motion to remove any restrictions on the distance between cannabis dispensaries was passed. However, Ellen Lee Zhou, social worker and 2018 candidate for San Francisco special mayoral election, said Ronen does not represent the community’s real voice.

Ellen Lee Zhou: I was in many of the public hearings. I remember very clearly in my head. We said it to them, we do not want a cannabis store next to 3015 San Bruno because there’s a preschool and a daycare right next to that proposed location. You know what they say? They said it is necessity to have a cannabis store. That kills people’s voice because 85 percent of the people live nearby, within the 600 block, they say “No thank you. Stay away from our kids. Stay away from our residential area.” But yet, they passed the regulation. They allowed them to have a cannabis store right next to daycare.

Narration: Before the mayoral election, according to political contributions reported to the San Francisco Ethics Commission, San Francisco supervisor Mark Farrell and Board of Supervisors president London Breed, who last elected mayor of the city, had received more than $50,000 each in reported political contributions from the local cannabis industry. In total, the members of the current Board of Supervisors received at least $153,000 from owners, employees, lobbyists, and firms associated with the cannabis industry in San Francisco.

Narration: Coming up, what will legalization of recreational marijuana lead to?