Photo: Patrick Donohue
A crowd of people packed the auditorium of the Arlington Central Library Thursday night to hear a panel discuss the effects of marijuana on the brain, body, and behavior of youth.
The Arlington READY (Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol and Drug use in Youth) Coalition sponsored this event titled “What’s the Big Deal? Teen Marijuana Use in Arlington.”
READY’s coordinator, Dr. Kate McCauley, said that the coalition’s mission is to create an ongoing community-wide forum that will identify strategies to keep Arlington’s teens drug and alcohol free.
“It’s our hope to delay initial use of any substance until teens brains and bodies are fully developed,” McCauley said.
The panelists were Dr. Gaya Dowling, the Chief of the Science Policy Branch in the Office of Science Policy and Communications at the national institute on Drug Abuse; Dr. William Hauda, an emergency physician and pediatric emergency physician at Inova Fairfax Hospital; Officer Jim Tuomey, a corporal with the Arlington County Police Department; and a 25-year-old named Chris who shared his struggles with substance abuse that started with marijuana, as a youth growing up in McLean.
READY felt this meeting was imperative because they said the most recent surveys from Arlington teens have shown a disturbing decrease in perceptions of harm regarding marijuana and increasing numbers of teens saying they have used marijuana.
This change in perception could have something to do with this recent election, where Colorado and Washington made marijuana legal.
Gladys Castellon, 18, the coalition’s leader of their youth committee, KISS (Keep It Sober Stupid), and senior at Washington Lee High School, said that she noticed students’ reactions to the new legislation, mostly on Twitter.
“It’s not necessarily about people wanting to make the effort to get it legalized [in Arlington],” Castellon said, “but it’s more of just kids hyping the fact that it’s legalized and saying ‘That’s cool. We should move.’”
Despite this hype, McCauley does not think this is an uphill battle said that the community has already made great strides.
“One of the things we have successfully done--not READY, but as a community--is successfully gotten smoking to be something that very few people are doing,” McCauley said, adding, “The numbers around alcohol use are going down. Two-thirds of Arlington teens don’t use alcohol on any given weekend.”
But still, as Dowling told the audience in a slide show, marijuana is behind only alcohol and cigarettes as the most commonly abused substance by teens.
After the panelists spoke for about an hour of their expertise on marijuana’s effect on teen’s lives and health, they opened it up to a Q&A for the audience.
The first questioned was from a concerned Arlington parent who asked Chris, “what signs should parents look for in kids that are abusing drugs?”
Chris responded by saying that he knew that people always wondered what his own father could have done differently, and that he does not know.