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Calaveras County Teens Assess Marijuana Impacts

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Indoor cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County pictured on October 20, 2016.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

During an after-school program at Calaveras High School, teens mentor middle schoolers. The topic of conversation varies, but there’s a recurring theme among their protégés: marijuana.

“We were raised on don’t do it because it does this to your bloodstream and it was lecture after lecture. It’s burned into our heads,” says Jillian Salvitti Baker, a senior at the high school.

She and her fellow mentors say they are well aware of the side effects linked to marijuana.

“Memory loss, a lot of short-term stuff,like, they get slower and they get boring,“ says Colten Anderson and Tara Purcell. “I feel like with marijuana, a lot of marijuana smokers claim that they’re not addicted, but when they try to stop smoking it they go back on and they are addicted,” says Madison James.

Dr. Dean Kelaita, the health officer for Calaveras County Public Health, says the long-term effects of using marijuana are unknown.

“There haven’t been large scientific studies to demonstrate that clearly,” he says.   

Kaleita has been giving presentations around the community on the adverse effects of marijuana on adolescents, which have been shown to cause abnormalities in brain development.

When you introduce marijuana during those formative years of brain development you can permanently alter the formation of those later parts of the brain that come on that regulate abstract thought and rational decision making,” he says.

Kathryn Eustis, director of student support services at the Calaveras County Office of Education, says the percentage of students who believe using marijuana is harmful has fallen drastically.

In 2009, 52 percent of 9th graders and 41 percent of 11th graders believed using marijuana regularly was harmful. Those figures are down to 44 percent of 9th graders and 26 percent of 11th graders.

"This is counter to what they are learning in school. This is cultural influences that are stronger than what we can push back against in our schools right now," Eustis says.

Making the decision to use marijuana may have more to do with students having a casual attitude towards it. They believe at least half of their classmates smoke marijuana regularly and they suspect that most of them are upperclassmen. 

“I think over the years it’s stayed the same. It’s always that group of kids,“ says Salvitti Baker. “I haven’t seen it grow across campus or have people selling it on campus.”

According to data collected last year by the Calaveras County Office of Education, 8 percent of 9th graders and 22 percent of 11th graders used marijuana in the past 30 days. Those figures show a decrease in usage compared to 2009 when 13 percent of 9th graders and 34 percent of 11th graders say they used marijuana in the past 30 days.