New Canaan officials weigh in on high marijuana use among teens nationwide
Officials in Darien and New Canaan agreed that neither town is immune to the national trend of teens who smoke marijuana.
"It's a problem for teenagers around the country," said Darien High School Principal Dan Haron. "It's one of these topics, we're talking about it nationally. I don't think we're worse off than any place."
"It's a reality," Falcone said.
The reality, according to a survey released by the Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation on Wednesday, May 16, shows 9 percent of teens in ninth through 12th grades reported smoking marijuana more than 20 times a month in 2011. That figure is up 80 percent since the 2008 version of the report.
"It's too large a number to begin with, in my mind," Haron said. "I think we should be alarmed by that many students having reported smoking marijuana, period. I don't know if over the last four years the alarm should sound louder than before."
During the time of the study, the state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Before that change, it was a misdemeanor offense to be in possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana in Connecticut, punishable by a $1,000 fine, a mark on an individual's criminal record and possible jail time.
Since the decriminalization took effect July 1, 2011, possession of small quantities is now punishable by a $150 fine for first-time offenders and a $200 to $500 for repeat offenders.
"I don't think it's more accessible. It probably has a lot to do with the culture. We know it's always been around just like alcohol," Ogrinc said. "It's a good possibility, but too early to tell, that just decriminalizing it sends a message that it's not that serious. I know why they decriminalized it since the courts were overburdened but we're seeing a lot more kids possessing small amounts of marijuana than before."
The frequency of those infractions has increased in New Canaan. From July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, New Canaan police had 48 drug-related stops. Of those stops, 37 of them resulted in arrests that included possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana. Since decriminalization, police have already issued 37 infractions for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana in less than a year.
"At least from an arrest standpoint," Cappelli said. "I have heard unofficially that kids are smoking it more, or smoking rather than drinking."
Cappelli said possession of marijuana found on an individual younger than 17 is a juvenile offense. Darien police don't always inform the school if a student is found with marijuana.
"It depends on the circumstances," he said. "Under half an ounce is an infraction. We don't normally report an infraction. If the infraction took place where there was a party going on, we generally report that to the school."
This is because the circumstances might coincide with responsibilities in school, Cappelli said.
"If the student plays a sport or belongs to a club, they sign a commitment letter," he said.
Haron said after three marijuana-related offenses, the student will be kicked out of the activity, and they will face a minimum five-day suspension if caught in possession of marijuana on school property.
"There are definitely repercussions that happen within the school," Haron said. "Our policies are very clear."
Falcone added that the primary mission is to educate students about the health risks of marijuana usage.
"To the degree that situations arise, we want to provide the supports necessary to properly address those situations," Falcone said. "I would say we are working to educate students about the risks of all kinds of substances."
"They don't come here when they're high," Marzano said. "They know that they'll be sent home."
In such an instance, Marzano said she will tell the parents that their child isn't feeling well.
"Because you can't accuse them," she said. "And the parents will come and get them."
Marzano believes it is the parents' responsibility to educate their child about the risks of using marijuana because teens think there is no risk, she said.
"In this town, you know, they smoke the weed because it relieves the stress," Marzano said. "And before they know it, it owns them. They're not in charge anymore, the drugs are in charge."
The study showed significant declines in the percentage of survey respondents who felt smoking marijuana would put themselves or others in danger, mess up their lives, make their problems worse, lose control of themselves or get depressed. But that perception doesn't line up with the facts, according to Superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools David Abbey, who said marijuana is always a concern.
"I think marijuana is a concern in every community across the country and its of concern here as well. Parents and school personnel should be vigilant in terms of their concerns regarding their children's potential use of any substance including marijuana," Abbey said. "I have heard that marijuana is stronger today and more virulent then it was 10 to 15 years ago. So I have greater concern as a result of that."
Ogrinc has also heard about the increased potency of marijuana these days, and she says it may have to do with kids developing a tolerance for the drug.
"I've only heard that it's more potent. I know kids who were using it sometimes mix it with other drugs as well," Ogrinc said. "You really don't ever know what's in it. Maybe people are building a tolerance or something."