School resource officers say marijuana possession, not alcohol, is their biggest issue

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - School resource officers say marijuana possession, not alcohol, is their biggest issue.

Seven Crook County students have been caught with marijuana on school grounds since September.

Now that the school district has two school resource officers, they hope to keep ahead of the growing problem of marijuana in the hands of youth.

"Right now, unfortunately, I'd have to say the marijuana problem is the biggest issue. It's totally replaced alcohol as being the problem," reported SRO Jeff Coffman, who has been in the position since 2004.

Jordan Zamora, who became the SRO for the two local high schools last month, agreed, noting that he has had a handful of marijuana possession in the high school.

"Either they've been smoking it in the bathrooms, or they're smoking on the grounds, or if they're smoking a cigarette and then they get searched, and they're found with marijuana. That seems to be the big issue right now," he said, noting that he has also had a couple of vaping incidents. "But, it's definitely been the marijuana that's been top."

Coffman has seen an uptick in youth possession of marijuana since Measure 91 went into effect July 1, 2015, when recreational marijuana became legal for people 21 and older in Oregon.

According to Coffman's research, he had one student in possession of marijuana case during the 2014-2015 school year, and that had to do with an off-campus situation that involved high school students.

"In 2015-2016 school year, that jumped up to 10 marijuana incidents with one minor in possession of alcohol for that year. Those were school-related marijuana incidents," Coffman reported.

Then the following school year, there were 14 marijuana-related incidents with zero minor in possession of alcohol incidents.

In 2017-2018, there were 10 marijuana-related incidents with zero minor in possession of alcohol cases.

"So far since the beginning of this school year, we've had seven marijuana-related cases and one minor in possession of alcohol," Coffman said.

Those numbers reflect all grade levels, including a couple of incidents at the elementary level.

"Kids are now doing things in the bathroom, and they're doing things behind sheds, and they're going in the alleys across the street," Coffman said.

Not only is it illegal for students to possess and use marijuana, but Coffman pointed out the health risks as well.

According to research, Coffman said the adolescent brain doesn't fully form until around age 26 or 27.

"Anytime you introduce a chemical into that environment while the brain is forming, it changes things, and it alters the way your brain operates," he explained. "There's a lot of reset points as a child grows up where the brain does some specific things in the way of preparing it for adulthood, and substance abuse, whether that's marijuana or some other kind of drug, alters those processes, and it does change things in the brain."

So how is marijuana getting into the hands of children?

"They're getting it from other kids, and in some cases the parents are not very secure oriented when they're leaving their marijuana hanging around the house – on the nightstand or out in the kitchen, and the kids are grabbing the stuff and putting it in their backpacks and bringing it to school," Coffman said.

Zamora said when he asks students where they get pot, they usually don't want to say.

"It just stands to reason that it's more available," Coffman said. "The big thing used to be where kids would get into their parents' alcohol because it's in the house, and it's available, and that used to be the drug of choice, and now that's been erased. We rarely see alcohol incidents anymore – it's marijuana-related just by availability."

Coffman said they typically find students with the dried green form and occasionally with honey butane oil known as "dabs," which is a highly concentrated form of THC that he calls very dangerous.

Coffman said when youth are caught with marijuana, they are given a citation and referred to the juvenile department for adjudication.

From there, the students could potentially lose their driver's license or permit, and they would most likely be put on probation for a period of time. They may also have to do some community service and drug and alcohol screening.

"It's more trying to figure out is there a major problem here, and if so, can we address it and help the kid out before the problem gets worse," Coffman said of their punishment.

At the school level, those students would most likely be suspended for violation of the district's drug policy.

Both SROs said education is the key to preventing underage marijuana use.

Coffman teaches the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to fifth-graders and will continue to impress the importance of making good choices.

"Making sure that the kids get good information, not trying to scare them because that really doesn't work, but giving them good information about the harm that these things can cause in their life and then the rest is really up to them and the parents to hopefully make good choices," Coffman said of the program.

But teachers and administrators are finding it difficult to educate students about marijuana in today's society.

"There's a lot of pro-marijuana or pro-marijuana households that our kids are growing up in," said Crook County Middle School Principal Kurt Sloper. "As we provide research-based type of information on the effects of THC on the adolescent brain and come from an education, science research background, our kids leave our school and receive the exact opposite message outside of school through different sources and forms of media."

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