Nine students from three area high schools gather at the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition's fourth-annual Marijuana Summit to discuss marijuana use among high-schoolers in Saco on Thursday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Nine students from three area high schools gather at the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition’s fourth-annual Marijuana Summit to discuss marijuana use among high-schoolers in Saco on Thursday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

SACO — More than two dozen students, school administrators and resource officers, and health care professionals gathered at People’s Choice Credit Union in Saco on Thursday for the fourth-annual Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition Marijuana Summit.

The summit, “Marijuana through the lens of youth, policy and intervention,” featured a panel of students from several county high schools, in addition to presentations on youth and parent engagement, marijuana and its impacts on the teenage brain and the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, as passed by voters in November.

York High School senior Ryan Webb, left, and sophomore Tommy Carr discuss the impacts of marijuana on their school and ways to curb drug abuse at a Marijuana Summit in Saco on Thursday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

York High School senior Ryan Webb, left, and sophomore Tommy Carr discuss the impacts of marijuana on their school and ways to curb drug abuse at a Marijuana Summit in Saco on Thursday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Sarah Breul, director of CHHC — a division of the University of New England — said the event’s intent was to engage multiple community members in order for school administrators to understand marijuana use within a school context.

“We are convening school administrators and students and different community partners for updates and education around marijuana use and trends among teens; changes in legislation and implications for availability of and access to marijuana; and just sort of taking the health lens on the implications of substance misuse among teens,” Breul said.

This summit was hosted by CHCC’s Project Alliance in collaboration with Regional School Districts 23, Old Orchard Beach, and 21, which covers Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel; as well as those in Maine School Administrative District 6, which includes Buxton, Hollis, Standish, Limington and Frye Island.

Students from the three districts came together to present their perspectives of marijuana as they’ve come to know it from their school environments — who’s using, who’s not and why.

Some estimated that, by the time most students reach mid-high school, up to 75 percent of students have tried smoking marijuana at least once — a figure they attributed to increased media coverage of the topic and the push for legalization.

“Because of the whole movement for legalization, the danger of marijuana use has been played down, and because of pop culture it plays down the dangers that marijuana has,” said York High School senior Ryan Webb. “(Students) see that as the cool thing to do and associate that with a good time and they don’t see that as a problem.”

Julia Harrod, another senior at YHS, said a rise in parents legally smoking marijuana also has an effect on teens.

“I think that really changes everybody’s thoughts on whether it’s risky to use or more harmful,” she said.

As a result of increased use, the nine-student panel said as a whole, parents need to be better equipped with the knowledge to educate their children about the effects and potential dangers of marijuana use.

“There are two main categories of avid users: the one group will have parents who are somewhat negligent, maybe not pay attention to what their kids are doing … (and) the second category I think are parents who have an understanding their kid is using marijuana somewhat frequently but they don’t really have the tools to approach their child,” said Kennebunk High School sophomore Joe Bergeron.

“Those are the parents that would do good if they have some sort of education or framework on how to approach their child,” he said.

YHS sophomore Tommy Carr agreed.

“It always starts with using (marijuana) periodically or over time, and as it develops more I think parents become aware …  but I think it’s an awkward topic to have in families,” he said. “I feel like parents may not be educated enough to stand up and tell them it’s wrong.”

Equipping students, their administrators and parents with those tools, Breul said, was the goal of the summit.

“Those who are teachers or school resource officers or who are the administrators are in the school context daily I think have a lot of questions about, ‘What does all of this mean? What are the real trends and the real implications?’” she said regarding the recent legalization of recreational marijuana. “Having everybody in one room to ask those questions presents some of the latest facts.”

She said more than anything it’s important to empower youth to make the decisions that are healthy and right for them.

“We’re trying to mix in the youth voice as well as experts who know the legislative side, experts who know the health side and have a mix of these voices,” she said. “The target is very much school administrators and we try to make it student-led.”

Gina Brodsky, a counselor at YHS, agreed it’s important to involve youth in discussions about substance abuse, saying she sees issues with students in her office daily.

“One of the most powerful things I think we can do in the community is the youth engagement piece,” she said. “Empowering youth to feel confident and good about who they are is awesome. Student advocacy works.

“We need to simply say to kids, ‘Not right now,’” she continued. “Marijuana is illegal for you. Period.”

For the teens, part of that empowerment is as simple as having conversations with their peers about the effects of marijuana use.

“I try to just have a conversation and make it not feel like I’m judging them,” Harrod said about her friends who use marijuana. “As long as they let me know what they’re doing and involve me in that, they’re one step safer.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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