Perceived risks of pot down, use up

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Peer Helpers from each of the county’s high schools gave presentations during a town hall meeting on marijuana held Monday night at city hall, which was sponsored by the Children’s Policy Council.

Children’s Policy Council director Susan Short said the annual PRIDE surveys conducted in the county’s high schools show marijuana use is increasing among teens, while alcohol use is decreasing. This, she said, is because marijuana use has been legalized in many states, and teens consequently perceive it as less dangerous.

“When the perceived risks go down, the usage goes up,” Short said.

Peer Helpers were assigned specific topics, which they researched, and later shared their findings. Andalusia’s group shared information on local use, including PRIDE survey results that show only 10 percent of Covington County students use marijuana.

The students interviewed Assistant District Attorney Emmett Massey, who told them that there were more than 150 marijuana arrests during the spring break season. Fifty-three of those were in River Falls.

Locally, they found there were 147 misdemeanor cases and 29 felony cases of marijuana in Covington County. Of those:

• 46 have been found guilty;

• Eight have entered plea agreements;

• Five are youthful offenders;

• One is in drug court; and,

• 32 had a felony involved.

Of the 29 felony cases:

• Nine cases are pending;

• 16 have been found guilty; and,

• Four are in drug court.

Florala Peer Helpers pointed out that if only 1 percent of American youth ages 15 to 19 start using marijuana, there will be 190,000 new users.

Meanwhile, they said, Colorado collected approximately $9 million in taxes the first three months it had legalized use. As marijuana is increasingly legalized, they found, Mexican drug dealers are turning to heroin as a source of money-making.

“According to NPR, heroin use in the U.S. is up 70 percent since the increasing legalization of marijuana,” a Pleasant Home student said. “Users can get low quality heroin for as low as $4 a hit.”

The teens also explored the side effects of short- and long-term use, and argued that the drug is addictive. The 2010 National Study on Drug Use and Health showed that 18 percent of the people ages 12 and older who enter drug abuse treatment programs have marijuana as their primary drug of choice.

The students also heard from District Attorney Walt Merrell, who praised them for the commitments they’ve made as Peer Helpers.

“I spend most of my time dealing with people who have made terrible choices,” he said. “It is rare that I can stand before a group of people, especially young people such as yourself, and commend the audience for what it has done.”

Short said those pushing the legalization of medical marijuana are perpetrating a hoax.

“What they want is everybody to have marijuana whenever they want it,” she said. “We are trying to send a message to the parents and adults to be more aware of the realities of this drug. The proponents of legalized marijuana are doing a great job, but we’re not hearing enough from the other side.”