Marijuana’s first month legal: South students, staff reflect on impacts of new Illinois law

Gwyn Skiles and Maggie Baumstark

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From political campaign stages to casual sidewalk conversations, the question of the legalization of marijuana has long been a hotly debated topic. Illinois recently took a powerful stride in the debate, passing a law at the beginning of this year legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and over. The effects of the law have trickled down into the South community: twelve percent of students have been impacted by the law, according to an unscientific survey conducted by The Oracle.

Although Illinois legalized recreational marijuana, the Village of Glenview still prohibits its sale.

District 225 policy does not allow for the possession or consumption of marijuana on school property, Ronald Bean, dean of students and assistant principal, said—but that isn’t stopping students. Sixteen percent of South students use marijuana, according to an unscientific survey conducted by The Oracle. To reduce the number of marijuana users within South, there are a series of repercussive policies in place, Bean explained.

“Board policy says that possession or consumption of any drug on school grounds/sponsored activity, for the first offense, is up to a ten day out of school suspension,” Bean said. “For a second offense, it’s up to a ten-day, out-of-school suspension, and we have to convene what’s called the Major Disciplinary Review Committee (MDRC), and make a decision on whether or not there could be a recommendation for expulsion from school.”

While South’s policy hasn’t changed since legalization took effect, the administration is concerned about the increased availability of marijuana to students, Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel said.

“My concern, obviously, is that it was already very readily available; now it’s just ridiculously easy to get,” Fagel said. “In the past, I’ve heard people say that you needed to know someone who sold drugs [in order to get them]. Now, you just need to have someone who’s over 21 who can walk into the store and get it for you. That’s my concern.”

Miles Jetson*, a senior who buys weed from his friends that deal, has noticed a difference in its price since legalization. He explained that the weed from his dealer is cheaper since marijuana dispensaries, legal vendors of marijuana to those 21 and over, are safer outlets.

“A lot of people have an outlet now—a dispensary—which they know is legal and won’t get them into any legal issues, so a lot of people would prefer getting a fake ID and going there instead,” Jetson reasoned.

Senior Olivia Donahue*, who has regularly used marijuana since her sophomore year, hasn’t been personally affected by the legalization, but she hopes that it will make marijuana consumption safer. She has noticed that vendors are very strict about the age requirement for marijuana purchase, and she believes the higher level of regulation will decrease the risk associated with buying marijuana from uncertified dealers.

“I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had a bad experience [with marijuana], because buying weed through dealers is dangerous,” Donahue said. “I’m hoping that [legalization] kind of prevents that because it’s more regulated now. The substance is safer.”

Sarah Martin*, a senior who used to smoke marijuana, said that since  legalization she has noticed people smoking more openly. Through social media, she has seen more people talking about marijuana use than before the legalization because there is less fear of getting caught.

“[People smoke more openly now] because it’s legal,” Martin said. “Even if they’re underage, they feel like they wouldn’t get in that much trouble. It’s like drinking. You don’t really get arrested for underage drinking, you just get told to stop.”

Martin said that while she has never smoked marijuana on school property, she would often go out during open lunch and return high. Donahue, though, occasionally gets high while at school. She began getting high at school last year, when she got a dab pen, which is a device where one consumes THC—the active component of marijuana—in vapor form. Last year, with the convenience of a dab pen, Donahue smoked at school multiple times a week, although now smokes less frequently.

“I try not to do it in classes where I have to focus,” Donahue said. “Last year I had a pretty low-key schedule, and my friends would do it. It kind of made class interesting and a good time.”

Medical professionals, like Dr. Mona Hirani, an allergist, immunologist, and pediatric pulmonologist, warn against the use of marijuana, especially for teenagers. Inhalation of marijuana, Hirani said, even in small doses, can cause a number of short term and long term health complications, which both Jetson and Martin have experienced. Hirani mentioned that the brain isn’t fully developed until age 24, which makes young users more susceptible to addiction and long term cognitive effects.

“[Inhaling marijuana] is going to affect the general well-being of the patient,” Hirani said. “The brain is what is mostly affected by these substances, since they are mind-altering substances. They mess up how you think, your memory and a lot of cognitive behavior. Depending on the dose, you can have mild to moderate [physical] effects as well.”

Consumption of marijuana in teenage years is especially risky, Hirani said. Although it’s known that young users are more susceptible to addiction, there is little information beyond that about how smoking marijuana affects younger people specifically, Hirani said.

“The only evidence [about marijuana usage] that’s really out there is for adults,” Hirani said. “There’s no real evidence—no studies have been done—in younger children. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is issuing warnings and telling parents not to let their kids use it; even though it’s ‘legal,’ we don’t know what the effects are going to be.”

Hirani predicts that with the recent legalization creating more opportunities for kids to access marijuana, the number of students facing medical problems as a result will likely increase as well. However, the administration seeks to prevent this and is planning on sending a communication to students and their families, clarifying the school’s policy and reminding that it’s not legal for high school students, Fagel said.

Martin warned against using marijuana for those thinking about starting. She has recently decided to quit, and said that she is strongly opposed to starting again.

“Don’t do it,” Martin said. “Even though it’s not an addicting drug, you still get addicted to the feeling. It’s hard to stop because everyone around you is doing it. It’s more tempting if you’ve already done it.”

*Names have been changed