Administration maintains concerned attitude toward and relaxed punishment for marijuana use


The Wilson Beacon

Hannah Masling and Jailyn Broughton

A Beacon survey of over 400 Wilson students this month found that 36.8 percent of students have tried bringing weed products into school, and out of those, 84.3 percent weren’t caught. Of those who were caught, 84.8 percent were not punished by the school.

So how effective is Wilson security and administration at catching and punishing students who bring weed into the building?

“Not at all,” Principal Martin said. She explained that Wilson follows the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) lead in terms of marijuana offenses. “Of course it’s all illegal for minors, but my experience with MPD is [that marijuana has] been a bit of a gray area. They’ll often just confiscate it, throw it away, and say, ‘Move along there.’”

Although Wilson’s punishment system might be unaggressive, Martin believes this is the best approach. “Kids should be supported through making mistakes and recovering and being restored to the community and being able to rebound,” she explained regarding her opposition to a zero-tolerance system. However, suspension and discipline do apply to repeat offenders or dealers.

If an administrator suspects a student of being high, they sometimes take the student to see the school nurse. “It could [happen] two to three times a week, it could be once a week, it could be once a month. It doesn’t have a definite time. The protocol is to take the vital signs, make sure that the vital signs are stable, and to confirm that they have been smoking marijuana,” School Nurse Grace Echeona said. If the student is confirmed to be high, they are sent home. After the vital signs have been taken, all punishment and contact with parents is left to the deans.

While there is no specific data on the quantity, demographics, or other details of Wilson’s punishment for marijuana offenses, there is data that proves that students of color are suspended more often than white students. For this reason, Martin suspects the trend extends to all areas of discipline, including marijuana offenses.

Sixty-eight percent of surveyed students said they had used marijuana. Of those, 36.3 percent said they used it multiple times a week.I find that they are using it to cope with negative life experiences, to distract themselves from what’s really happening in their lives and that’s why they like it. It’s sort of an immediate impulsive fix,” said 11th grade Social Worker Lacey Maddrey, who often works with students struggling with substance abuse. Maddrey partially blames the legalization of marijuana in DC for the high rates of student marijuana use. “It just seems so normalized… there’s no sense of fear that there’s any repercussion, and I don’t think that’s just Wilson-based. I think it’s community-based and it’s district-based,” Maddrey said.

Similarly, when Martin worked as a principal in Aspen, Colorado, the school saw an uptake in marijuana use after legalization and commercialization of the drug. With the uptake in marijuana use came a surprising decrease in alcohol use. “Alcohol was the gateway for marijuana use and suddenly that went away. Students were going straight to marijuana use and not necessarily drinking,” she said. And while she doesn’t have access to the same data she did in Colorado, she suspects that DC’s legalization of marijuana has caused a similar trend for Wilson students, though she has no evidence to support this.

Through Maddrey’s experience as a social worker and co-leader of a substance abuse group, Seven Challenges, with fellow social worker Tiffany Washington, she has seen the detriment marijuana can have on students’ lives. “A lot of students that I work with who are chronic smokers are late. They may not go to all of their classes, their follow-through on assignments is poor, sometimes it seems like they don’t really care as much about their grades and what’s happening,” Maddrey said. “Marijuana also impacts the ability of your prefrontal cortex to grow, so your ability to have positive executive functioning—things that help you with your learning and your academics—are sometimes stunted or inhibited by smoking, especially if you’re doing it every day.”

Maddrey noticed that students who are more prone to chronic marijuana use tend to have outside challenges such as family issues, mood disorders, or academic struggles. “Some people might say, ‘Oh, well I smoke to cope with my depression and anxiety,’ but it just sort of leaves you in this perpetual cycle of not learning any other positive coping skills, so that when you want to stop it’s really hard… [marijuana] kind of numbs the pain for them, so I think that’s the appeal. But it’s not a permanent fix because in and of itself, it creates other issues for them,” Maddrey said.

Throughout Martin’s principalships, she’s also seen the damage that chronic marijuana use can have on teenagers. “I’m not sure that a student who has regular consistent marijuana use can actually claim to be fully functioning. I really don’t think so… I mean there are literally hundreds, probably in the thousands, of students that I’ve talked to in 15 years of being a principal that I saw everything fall apart for them.”

Though Martin recognizes the prevalence of marijuana use at Wilson, she suspects that the number of students who use it is actually less than in other schools. She explained that a combination of high parent involvement, a wealthier socioeconomic demographic, and the tightness of the community leads her to believe this.

Both Martin and Maddrey stress the ways that marijuana can change the trajectory of a student’s life. The teenage brain, they both note, is not fully developed, which can cause marijuana’s impacts of lack of motivation, disinvolvement in school, and general behavioral changes to be particularly dangerous. Martin urged, “If you think that you can keep being the person you are and use marijuana, you’re wrong, because marijuana is a culture. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way that people behave.”