Pubdate: Sun, 06 Mar 2016
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2016 The Mail Tribune
Note: Only prints LTEs from within it's circulation area, 200 word count limit
Author: Teresa Thomas


Affordability, availability and more potent forms of marijuana are 
spurring alarming trends in pot use among teenagers, law enforcement 
and school officials say.

Not only are more youths being cited for minor in possession, but how 
they view and use the drug is shifting as marijuana becomes more 
socially acceptable - and legal.

"Pot's chill," says Kate, a 17-year-old North Medford High School 
student whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity. "It 
just chills you and opens your eyes. I don't see it as a bad thing."

"I'd rather smoke marijuana than take my ADHD medication," says 
Mikal, 16, a junior at North Medford whose anonymity also is being 
protected because of his age.

Medford police Lt. Kevin Walruff, who oversees the interagency 
Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force, says MIP citations 
have increased 30.5 percent, from 105 in 2014 to 137 in 2015. The 
numbers do not include citations for those age 18 to 20. Marijuana is 
legal only for those 21 and older.

Countywide, 222 youths in fiscal year 2014-15 were referred by local 
law enforcement agencies to Jackson County Juvenile Services after 
they were caught with less than an ounce of marijuana. But between 
July 1, 2015 - when recreational pot became legal for adults under 
Measure 91 - and Feb. 23, there were 189 referrals, including 131 
between October and December, for possession and possession by 
consumption, says Joe Ferguson, deputy director of the juvenile department.

"If the trend continues, then we are looking at around 300 police 
reports (for MIPs this fiscal year)," Ferguson says in an email.

"It's similar to what we saw when medical marijuana went into 
effect," he says. "We saw a similar upswing then, too."

Ferguson also attributes the increase to the availability of 
marijuana and new legislation that allows police to issue MIPs to 
minors who are high, regardless of whether they were found with 
marijuana in their possession.

House Bill 3400, signed last June by Gov. Kate Brown, makes laws that 
govern use of marijuana by minors similar to alcohol rules. Before 
that, a juvenile could not be cited for being high, Ferguson says.

Now, if minors exhibit "objective symptoms" of having used marijuana 
in the last 24 hours, admit to being high or were witnessed using, 
they can be cited for possession by consumption, says Mike Jackson, a 
school resource officer at South Medford High School.

Walruff says that while it's too early to know the full impact of the 
new marijuana policies, police have found that more potent products 
of marijuana, namely butane honey oil, have become much more popular 
among youth in recent years.

"It is a high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) substance. They use a 
chemical process to extract the THC from the plant and then they 
smoke it," Walruff says.

In 2012, the average THC concentration of marijuana confiscated by 
police nationwide was 15 percent, according to the National Institute 
on Drug Abuse. However, honey oil - commonly called shatter, herbs, 
hash, errl, 710 ("oil" spelled backward) or budder - has THC levels 
between 50 and 90 percent, Walruff says.

"They call it 'dabbing,'" he says.

Walruff says teens are turning their bedrooms into hash oil 
laboratories to extract THC from parts of the marijuana plant that 
might otherwise have been discarded. But extracting the concentrates 
is dangerous, especially when using a flammable gas such as butane.

In January, hash oil explosions caused three Medford house fires and 
injured five people. In mid-February, a teen girl in Grants Pass was 
severely burned when an explosion likely caused by hash oil 
production turned her clothes into a ball of fire.

"Butane honey oil is to marijuana as crack is to cocaine," Jackson 
says. "It's a more potent form of the drug. And now that marijuana is 
more socially acceptable, it's almost as if it's not naughty enough, 
and they've found a way to make marijuana more potent."

Mikal says he prefers dabbing because it is more medicinal and helps 
him to focus.

Kate, on the other hand, says she prefers edibles.

"Cakes, brownies, lollipops, I've even had it in cotton candy," she says.

All forms of marijuana are illegal for anyone under the age of 21 
unless they have an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card. (As of 
last October, there were 257 minors statewide with medical marijuana 
cards.) The amount in a minor's possession determines the severity of 
the charge. Possession of more than a quarter ounce of honey oil or 
extract is a felony, Walruff says.

Students in the Medford School District are suspended for possessing 
or consuming any controlled substance on campus and expelled for 
distributing, says Amy Tiger, director of athletics and staff and 
student safety.

"There's the school track of consequences and the legal track of 
consequences," she says. "We were always able to suspend for students 
that were under the influence."

Last semester, 119 students districtwide were suspended for drug use, 
compared with 116 students in the first semester of the 2014-15 
school year and 95 students in the first semester of the 2013-14 
school year. Suspensions are reduced if the student agrees to get 
drug and alcohol counseling.

"It's important that the school district sends kids a clear signal," 
Tiger says. "It's illegal for students, something we don't want on 
our campus and something that has potential health consequences."

School administrators are trained to detect signs of marijuana use 
and to differentiate between the smell of a student who has been 
using and one whose family grows or uses marijuana.

"For several years now, we've had kids who don't touch the stuff and 
don't want to touch the stuff, but they come from a family of 
growers," Jackson says. "And when you live in a house where marijuana 
is being grown, you can wash those clothes as much as you want, but 
you're still going to smell like it."

Jackson says some kids are sent to his office regularly for smelling 
like pot, and some keep an extra change of clothes or an extra 
backpack in their lockers to use at school.

Affordability and availability continue to make marijuana an 
attractive drug for teens.

According to a 2015 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 10.4 percent of 
eighth-graders and 26.2 percent of 11th-graders countywide used 
marijuana at least once in the last 30 days.

In the same survey, 40.6 percent of local eighth-graders and 70 
percent of local high school juniors reported that it was easy to get 
marijuana. Both groups reported that it was easier to get marijuana 
than cigarettes, and 11th-graders said marijuana also was easier to 
get than alcohol.

Jackson County health promotions manager Tanya Phillips says the 2017 
Oregon Healthy Teens Survey will be a better indicator of the effects 
of Measure 91 on minors, as the last survey was conducted prior to 
the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Both Kate and Mikal say they get marijuana for free.

"It's easy for me to get because I know the right people," says Kate, 
who says she started using at age 8 and now uses about once or twice 
a month on her "really bad days."

"When there are so many people growing it in the valley, there's 
always going to be extra," says Jackson. "Alcohol is expensive in 
Oregon, and if you want some of it as a kid, you have to tap on 
someone's shoulder to buy it for you or steal it from the old man's 
liquor cabinet. But when marijuana is being grown all around you, it 
is ridiculously easy to get."

A little baggie of marijuana can get a lot of kids really high, 
whereas it would take a lot of beer or liquor to affect the same 
number of people, Jackson notes.

Furthermore, kids no longer view marijuana as dangerous, he says.

Eleventh-graders countywide considered smoking marijuana once or 
twice a week as less harmful than drinking between one and two 
alcoholic drinks a day, according to the 2015 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey.

"Alcohol makes you go around fighting people," Mikal says. "Weed 
makes you want to kill a bag of Doritos."

Mikal's companions viewed the drug as less harmful than other 
controlled substances and praised its medicinal properties.

"If you're drunk, you run red lights," says a 17-year-old North 
Medford junior who asked not to be named. "If you're high, you sit at 
a stop sign waiting for it to turn green."

"(Marijuana) heals you from cancer," says Chazz, 16, a North Medford 
High School junior, adding that the school posters have it all wrong.

Chazz, who says he smoked his first joint when he was 10, says he now 
smokes pot almost every day because it helps him with his anxiety and 
anger and helps him fall asleep at night.

"School starts at 8:45 a.m., so I get high around 8 a.m. so that it's 
wearing off by the time I get to school," he says.

"I try not to get to a point where I'm so f----- up that I can't do 
anything," says Chazz, who is only weeks away from earning his GED.

When asked whether his high ever interfered with his homework, Chazz 
says, "I hate homework either way."

Kids referred to OnTrack either by juvenile court or the schools are 
educated on the dangers associated with marijuana use, says Harrison 
Lockhart, a certified drug counselor and OnTrack's adolescent program manager.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana affects 
the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, coordination 
and decision-making.

"We work with them to determine if it's peer pressure that's causing 
it, if it's their home life that's causing it, or if it's a lack of 
or faulty education that's causing it," Lockhart says.

"Kids will cite that no one has ever died from marijuana use, and so 
we show them research about people who have died from overdose or 
driving under the influence," he says.

The goal is to persuade kids to either abstain from use or delay use 
until their mid-20s after their brains have fully developed, Tiger says.

"Even if a kid can function at a basic level while high, it doesn't 
mean that they are going to have a quest for learning or care about 
the things they should care about," Jackson says.

"They say marijuana is a gateway drug, but even for people who don't 
move on to meth or heroine or other serious drugs, for so many it's a 
gateway to nowhere," he says.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom