Pubdate: Sun, 01 Jul 2012
Source: Shelby Star, The (NC)
Contact:  2012 The Shelby Star
Author: Alicia Banks


Mary Jane. Weed. Pot. Reefer. All are nicknames for marijuana.

Some people are against the drug's use, yet 17 states have legalized 
marijuana for medical purposes. Other states have decriminalized 
marijuana by allowing people to have small amounts on their private 
property, according to the Associated Press.

Some say marijuana is harmless. Others say it's not a drug because 
it's natural. So how do kids see it?

Stephen Pasierb, president of the Partnership at, said 
marijuana's legalization and medical use has "created a perception 
among kids that this is no big deal."

More than 28 percent of Cleveland County ninth and 12th grade 
students reported using marijuana within the past year, according to 
2012 Pride Survey results.

Law enforcement agencies recognize marijuana is easy to access, 
although the drug is illegal in North Carolina.

"They can get drugs from friends, their neighborhood and parents, 
unfortunately," Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford said. "That's why 
it's up to us to find where these pipelines are and shut them off."

With the divided stance on marijuana, where can students find the 
truth about it, or any illegal drugs?

School Resource Officers

The federal-funded Safe and Drug Free-Schools program brought county 
health educators to middle and high school classrooms to teach drug 
prevention. Funding ended in 2009.

Dan Ashley now finds himself as a listening ear for students' 
questions about life, school and drugs.

Ashley, a Cleveland County Sheriff's Office lieutenant, is the school 
resource officer at Crest High School, a campus he's patrolled six years.

Students tell Ashley they believe certain drugs, such as marijuana, 
weren't addictive or dangerous. One story he shared revolved around a 
man he once arrested. The man said he would sell his soul to have crack.

"That story is an attention-getter. Some will say, 'You're lying?' 
and I tell them I'm not," Ashley said. "We (SROs) dispel myths."

Short-term effects of marijuana use include distorted perception, 
increased heart rate and loss of motor coordination, according to

Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman said SROs should also be on a 
first-name basis with students.

"They should build a rapport with that student. Students should be 
able to ask any question about narcotics, fights, etc. that they want 
to," Norman said.

At the elementary level, some SROs are Gang Resistance Education and 
Training (GREAT) instructors. The program's curriculum teaches gang 
and violence prevention, but youth have also inquired about drug 
dangers during lectures.

There is at least one SRO assigned to every middle and high school 
within the county.

"The SROs do a great job of getting drugs into the conversation," 
Ledford said. "Young folks learn this is someone they can talk to."

Searching for the supply

Law enforcement officers say students often bring illegal drugs to 
school. The county school system coordinates with police agencies to 
conduct drug searches on school campuses.

Sometimes, drugs are even traded in schools, Ledford said.

"When there's a demand, there is supply, regardless of what the 
substance may be," Norman said.

The sheriff's office and city police agencies conduct K-9-assisted 
drug searches on school campuses. Searches can be random or requested 
by school administration.

Eighteen drug searches were conducted on middle and high school 
campuses during the 2011-12 school year.

Distributing, selling or having drugs/alcohol on any campus can 
result in a 10-day or long-term school suspension, according to the 
Cleveland County Schools code of conduct.

A community effort

Some proponents who smoke marijuana say its effects are relaxing 
after a long workday. They find the drug harmless, comparing it to 
enjoying a glass of wine or beer.

Deshay Oliver, health education specialist and public information 
officer for the Cleveland County Health Department, said the 2012 
Pride Survey results show more emphasis needs to be put on educating 
youth about marijuana's effects. She said the same was done for 
alcohol and tobacco in previous years before the federal program funding ended.

Ashley said he often speaks with school administrators and teachers 
about drugs. Parents often call SROs anonymously with questions about 
drugs, he said. Ashley said a parent should have the same 
conversations with their children.

County health, school and police agencies agree curbing students' 
marijuana use isn't just one department's problem. It's everyone's 
issue to improve.


Marijuana percentage use among Cleveland County students in the past year

2006, 2009, 2012, 2010-11 national average

Sixth grade, 4.6, 1.6, 2.7, 3.3

Ninth grade, 29, 24.2, 28.6, 19.8

12th grade, 34.9, 28.9, 37.7, 32.7

Source: 2012 Pride Survey Results

Prevention resources:

For more information about the effects of illegal drug use, contact 
the Cleveland County Health Department at 704-484-5100.

Parents can also visit the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's 
website at for tips and advice about preventing youth drug use.
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