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Lighting up the scene

Cody* (’14) and a group of his friends sat indoors, eating pizza and smoking a joint, the distinct smell of marijuana fumes trapped within the closed doors. Cody began smoking during his freshman year after being pressured into it by his friends. Nowadays, he said that he smokes marijuana because it is pleasurable and “it makes you feel good.”

With the recent legalization of the recreational consumption of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, usage of the drug has become more accepted and is beginning to be considered normal. In addition, 21 states, since 1996, starting with California, have passed laws legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana to treat illnesses.

As society progresses, a previously illegal substance has become not only accepted, but sold by the government such as in the states of Colorado and Washington. The sale of marijuana is also lucrative. Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper told the Denver Post that he estimated a revenue of around $1 billion from the sale of both medicinal and recreational marijuana for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Over the past few years, the use of marijuana both within the student body and in the United States has drastically increased. The White House reported that the number of consumers from 2007 to 2011 increased from 14.4 million to 18.1 million; In the April 2011 issue of The Standard, it was emphasized that marijuana usage isn’t as prevalent or talked about in the ASL community as it is in the U.S. Yet, in a recent survey sent out to the student body, around 34 percent of the 125 students have tried it and a further 15 percent would have if they had the opportunity to, which suggests an increase in its use.

The controversial topic of marijuana legalization brings out strong opinions within the student body. Over half of the students surveyed support the legalization of the substance, while 21.6 percent believe that it should not be legalized. Nate* (’16) supports the decriminalization of the drug. “The good thing about legalization is that you will have less people going in for a stupid crime. It’s ridiculous to just throw someone in jail for that,” he said. However, he is fearful that its legalization would result in the industry emulating the tobacco industry, “I’m worried that if they legalize it, it will turn closer to the tobacco industry,” he said. As a regular smoker, he spends on average £40 a week on marijuana, which raises concerns for him. He worries that legalization would result in the drug being highly taxed.

The fear that the marijuana industry would mimick the tobacco business is a common one in some. Adriana* (’16) agrees with the drawbacks that come with legalization. “I do not think that marijuana should be legalized because, like the tobacco trade, if marijuana were legalized then it would be manufactured with all these chemicals and it would be less about the quality of the substance and more about the number of blunts,” she said.

Although the vast majority of students use marijuana for recreational purposes, some students illegally use it to enhance their mental health. The drug is considered to be a temporary remedy for depression, anxiety, and other similar mental disorders.

In the U.K., marijuana is medically legal under the form of Sativex if prescribed by a doctor, and also under the form of the synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone. Patients are treated with Sativex if they suffer from nausea and vomiting caused by special chemotherapies, and Nabilone, marketed as Cesamet, is mainly used for the same issue.

Adriana, a student diagnosed with chronic depression, illegally self-medicates with marijuana every week as it is the only way she can be content. “I used to be very stressed out and I was very unhappy. I felt like this was the only way that I could relieve some stress and up my mood,” she said. Although she no longer smokes regularly, she once felt as though she was wasting her time if she was not high.

Nate believes that he suffers from anxiety, so he uses marijuana as an instrument of relief. “It makes me a better person. It kind of helps calm me down because I’m usually really anxious but it helps me at that. I can just deal with everything as it comes, as opposed to being worried about what’s going to happen next,” he said.

Marijuana, though often seen as benign, can harm the brain with long-term effects. The use of marijuana retards cerebral growth when used during adolescence. This damages memory ability and performance on tasks. According to Time Magazine, teens who smoked have abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory – an anticipation of weak academic performance and impaired everyday functioning – which leads to them performing poorly on memory-related tasks.

Counselor Stephanie Oliver said that she has seen students, not necessarily at ASL, who suffered from depression and anxiety self-medicating with marijuana as a way to relieve symptoms.

Oliver’s biggest concern is the damaging mental health aspect. She focuses on the safety of the student body along with whoever else is in possession of or uses the class B drug. “My concern with drugs and alcohol is always is it going to cause harm to somebody… The thing I’m most concerned about is that [the consumers] aren’t causing harm to themselves or putting other people at risk,” she said.

Nate believes that smoking marijuana helps him further immerse himself in his schoolwork.. “If I were to write something creative for like English I would probably do it high,” Nate said, as these assessments require more creative thinking.

Cody said that if he were to do math homework or something as definitive, he would not do it under the influence of marijuana. However, some people do work high, but only in certain subjects like arts or creative writing.  “It helps you relax and be creative,” he added.

Marijuana use is also related to the concept of fitting in within certain niches of the student body. Grayson* (’15) said that “the two main reasons why people smoke are to look cool and to fit in.” The use of marijuana as a social lubricant causes problems like exclusion and is a reason for some to partake in its consumption.

It often happens that a group of students hang out purely to smoke, and if someone does not smoke they are bound to feel excluded. Cody, who has been a regular smoker for his four years of High School, agrees with the sentiment that if someone is not smoking marijuana, they may feel excluded. A personal anecdote of his is a weekly gathering at a friend’s house where the sole purpose is smoking.

The desire to fit in can often be dangerous and lead to eventual peer pressure into this habit. Out of the 125 who were surveyed, around 23 percent said that they started smoking marijuana because of peer pressure.

Some people have joined friend groups that are entirely smoke-free to shy away from the marijuana culture at ASL. Richard* (’15) is against smoking marijuana and surrounds himself with close friends that share the same opinions on the use of the substance: “I wouldn’t feel excluded, as my close friends don’t smoke,” he said.

Others simply believe that they would not gain anything from the experience. Chace (’14), said “I wouldn’t really benefit from trying it so I haven’t even thought about it.”

However Chace feels that, over time, there has been a shift in the social dynamic around the consumption of marijuana. “As a junior I did feel excluded when I was [the only one not smoking]  because sometimes my friends gathered just to smoke, but now I’m just comfortable just being there without having to smoke.”

His friends respect his choice to abstain from smoking due to the negative effects associated with marijuana. “I don’t want to lose control of myself, that’s one thing I don’t want, to lose my senses and to not have control over how I feel and my actions is not something I want to do,” he admitted.

However, when it comes to knowing their limits, students are usually disciplined. Few students choose to smoke on weekdays and others temporarily quit their smoking habits due to involvement in a sport team.

Marijuana, whether legal or not, has been present for decades in communities, including ASL’s. The drug has notoriously and tenaciously entrenched itself in a position where its consumption is neither conspicuous nor scorned at public events, like high school house parties. But whether it will keep this reputation – one of an undisturbed yet present drug – in the ASL community is left to speculation, as governments across the world start recognizing not only its medical capacities but the idea that it is not as detrimental as some would think.

It is impossible to speculate where, or if, marijuana will next be legalized and welcomed by communities; all that can be taken away from recent shifts in social trends is that whatever happens, marijuana will be at the forefront of a long, global legalization controversy.

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