How the Legalization of Marijuana Has Changed Drug Education

Posted in: Drug Abuse

October 12, 2018 |

A close up image of marijuana

The legalization of marijuana in several states and the drug’s acceptance in much of the western world has changed the way the US school system is approaching drug education. While schools and anti-drug programs in the past tended to use scare tactics and harsh language around drugs and their side effects, program leaders are now incorporating more objective messaging around marijuana use among teenagers.

Drug education today looks much different than it did 20 or even 10 years ago, and includes the following changes.

“Don’t” Is Now “Delay”

With so many adults openly using marijuana both medically and recreationally, it would be hypocritical and potentially more damaging for educators to act as if completely abstaining from the drug is realistic for most people.

The Being Adept curriculum, which has been used in about 20 schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, emphasizes delaying marijuana use, rather than refraining from it. The instructors don’t forbid marijuana, but rather share about the potential brain damage it can cause if used during the adolescent years, and the risk for triggering neurological changes that can lead to addiction.1 Their message is that it may be beneficial for students’ overall health if they wait to use marijuana until later in life.

The “delay” message does not only apply to marijuana, but also other legal substances like alcohol or nicotine.2 Students should be aware that all three of these substances should be used responsibly and at an age when the brain is fully developed.

Understanding Over Fear

The War on Drugs of the 1980s led to the execution of the “Just Say No” campaign, which used overt anti-drug messaging to encourage students to choose a life of sobriety. But, changes in legislation have made it so marijuana is now understood to be part of the world that children mature into.3 Because marijuana is legal in several states, there is no longer an emphasis on law enforcement as the only answer to a person’s drug addiction. Counseling, therapy and community support are seen as more valuable in promoting and maintaining sobriety in the long run. 3

Additionally, while marijuana was previously often referred to as a “gateway drug” that could lead to more dangerous substance abuse, students today are likely to mock this portrayal.2 Educators instead have begun to view students as having a higher level of maturity, and will speak about marijuana use as a series of decisions with consequences. Students are given more trust to make their own decisions about when and how to use the drug.1

While prior generations of students may have perceived marijuana as a dangerous drug with long-lasting effects, students today are not easily scared by dangers of the drug. They likely know several people who use the drug responsibly, and believe that moderate use can’t hurt them. And, in many states they cannot be arrested for using the drug, so they don’t need to be afraid of legal ramifications.

Drug Education for a New Era

With more than 52 percent of Americans over 18 having tried marijuana at some point in their lives, the change to a more understanding, objective and open educational approach is reflective of our society today.2 In 2018, students are more likely to be exposed to marijuana in a healthy way and can make smart decisions about if and how to use the substance.

By being realistic about the prevalence of marijuana, educational programs have a better chance of being successful with their student audiences. This educational transition has the potential to change the way future generations view marijuana and minimize some of the negative side effects and risks that come with drug use.

As marijuana use becomes more accepted in the US, subsequent drug education will continue to evolve to align with students’ perception of the drug.


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