Liberty teens get candid about marijuana

February 13, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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NEW — 11:55 a.m. Feb. 13, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy Liberty High School students (from left) Jenna Purkis, Neil Chakravarty and Ashton Herrild talk about the effects the legalization of marijuana has on teens at a Drug Free Community Coalition forum held at Liberty on Feb. 6.

By Christina Corrales-Toy
Liberty High School students (from left) Jenna Purkis, Neil Chakravarty and Ashton Herrild talk about the effects the legalization of marijuana has on teens at a Drug Free Community Coalition forum held at Liberty on Feb. 6.

Not much has changed about the perception of marijuana among teens since voters elected to legalize the drug with the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012.

If anything, legalization has made the drug seem more acceptable, according to a group of Liberty High School students at the third and final forum hosted by the Drug Free Community Coalition Feb. 6.

Previous forums were held Dec. 2 at Sammamish City Hall and Jan. 27 at Issaquah High School.

The forums were held in response to the legalization of marijuana, providing an avenue to discuss how Initiative 502 would ultimately affect teens in the community.

“I don’t think students are using it more, I think more people think it’s OK,” Liberty student Isabelle Ashraf said.

Marijuana remains illegal for those younger than 21, and using it is technically a federal crime.

The students compared its perception to alcohol, as their peers glamorize “blacking out” without fully understanding the physical, mental and legal consequences.

“There are downsides, and I feel like in high school, people rely on the thought that there’s nothing bad about marijuana and actually alcohol for that matter,” Liberty student Ashton Herrild said.

It is particularly harmful to growing teens, said one of the forum’s guest speakers, Jerry Blackburn, the director of Early Recovery Services with Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers and the Bellevue College Chemical Dependency Counseling Program.

Blackburn described drug use, in general, as “an unwanted neurological event.” For young people that consistently use them, drugs are a detriment to their development, actually altering how the brain is formulating itself, he added.

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Learn more about Issaquah Community Network’s Drug Free Community Coalition at

“Its really damaging for youth, because their central nervous system is so malleable and it’s just not done kind of cooking,” he said.

It’s troubling then that schools often don’t have the support for students struggling with drug addiction. Schools have academic counselors, but budgets don’t allow for chemical-dependency counselors, Blackburn said.

“We don’t have services and so kids kind of spin until they run into legal ramifications for their use,” he said.

The Liberty students added that they were unimpressed with the drug-related curriculum in health classes.

“We’re not really getting all of the facts, we’re getting some of the facts,” Liberty student Jenna Purkis said.

Purkis and Herrild both said videos shown in class are hard for students to relate to and take seriously.

They often hear about abstaining from drugs and what the worst-case scenario looks like in terms of chemical dependency, Purkis said, but she wants to hear more from her teachers.

“I think that information on what pot use really does and what it really looks like in the high-school setting would be a lot more helpful to us,” she said.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart, the forum’s other guest speaker, was vocal about his belief that the country is losing the war on drugs.

Urquhart, famous for his strong support of Initiative 502, noted that the war’s emphasis on incarceration wasn’t working.

“We still have the same supply, we still have the same demand for drugs, despite billions of dollars spent locking people up,” he said.

He added that he would support decriminalization, different than legalization, of a drug if there was money to send people to treatment.

Urquhart said he remembered several instances when an incarcerated drug addict would beg to go to treatment, but there was nothing an officer could do.

“That’s where we’ve fallen down in this country,” he said. “In a rich country like this, it’s a travesty that that has happened.”

Since marijuana’s legalization, the sheriff said his office hasn’t seen an increase in more adults or teens using the drug.

“The only problem that we’ve had, to a certain extent, is smoking in public,” he said. “Smoking marijuana in public, which is against the law, I’ve told my people that you will enforce that.”





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