Pubdate: Sun, 04 Aug 2013
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2013 Chicago Tribune Company
Authors: John Keilman and Lisa Black


Gabrielle Abesamis said she and her classmates at Niles West High 
School in Skokie receive plenty of information about marijuana from 
their health teachers, but when it comes to using the drug, some of 
her peers shrug off the lessons and just say YOLO - "You Only Live Once."

With medical marijuana now encoded into Illinois law, she said, that 
attitude will only strengthen.

"Even though it's for medical use, I don't think that matters to 
them," said Abesamis, 17. "The fact that it's legal for some people 
to possess it, they feel it's OK for them to have it too."

Illinois on Thursday became the 20th state to legalize pot for some 
medical patients, and although lawmakers say the rules will be among 
the toughest in the nation, educators and treatment experts worry 
that putting a partial stamp of approval on a once-forbidden drug 
will send a confusing message to young people.

"What happens with teenagers is (that) they begin to have that 
medicine-versus-drug argument," said Andy Duran of Linking Efforts 
Against Drugs, an educational group based in Lake Forest. "They begin 
to think it's not harmful or it's not addictive because it's a medicine."

Teen views about the risks of marijuana have been easing for more 
than 20 years, according to the University of Michigan's 
authoritative Monitoring the Future study. In 1991, about 4 in 5 high 
school seniors believed that people put themselves at great risk by 
smoking pot regularly. In 2012, fewer than half shared that opinion.

Attitudes appear even more casual around Chicago. The Illinois Youth 
Survey, which polls students about alcohol, tobacco and drug use, 
found that only a third of suburban teens and a quarter of those in 
the city believed that smoking pot once or twice a week brought great risk.

"Already, adolescents perceive marijuana to be not harmful, so I 
don't know that we're in a position where they could perceive it to 
be less harmful," said Pamela Rodriguez of TASC, or Treatment 
Alternatives for Safe Communities, which connects teens coming from 
juvenile court with drug treatment specialists.

She said the new marijuana law might actually prompt productive 
discussions about the proper use of medications. The abuse of 
prescription drugs is another major issue among her clientele, she 
said, and talking about medical pot could be a way to address the 
risks that any medication can pose.

The Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale teaches 
thousands of children about drugs each year, and Margo Schmitt, the 
center's director of education and evaluation, said its science-based 
presentations won't change.

"We have actually been getting a lot of questions about it, 
especially this last spring," Schmitt said. "Many of the kids have 
family in other states that have had something to do with 
(liberalized marijuana laws), so we get a lot of questions. We always 
answer them scientifically."

Frank Pegueros, president of the international D.A.R.E. program, 
based in Los Angeles, said it has not made substantive changes to its 
anti-drug lessons, taught by police officers, even as states have 
relaxed their laws.

"The fact that states have legalized marijuana for some purposes 
really calls for additional prevention education ... because the fact 
is, the greater prevalence of the substance, the more accessible it 
is to minors," he said.

Kate Mahoney of PEER Services, which provides drug education and 
treatment in Evanston and Glenview, said teens have long pointed to 
the medical use of marijuana to excuse their own pot smoking. Her 
response, she said, has been to say that she hopes they'll never have 
a condition like cancer that might justify such a prescription.

"It is really challenging, because the truth is that most teens 
really do best with clear blackand-white boundaries," she said. "We 
have muddied the waters."

Dr. Thomas Wright, chief medical officer at the Rosecrance treatment 
center in Rockford, said he will try to draw parallels between 
marijuana and other legal substances. "Just because it's not illegal 
doesn't mean it's going to be good for you," he said. "It'll just 
join the ranks of alcohol and tobacco - two of the deadliest and most 
addictive drugs we have."
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