Students are tired of hearing about pot.

They learn about it from teachers at school. They hear about it from their parents at home. Doctors tell them it will affect their mind and body. Law enforcement cautions them to make smart choices. 

The message, some students say, is always the same thinly veiled plea from adults imploring them to stay away from drugs and other intoxicants. 

While state and federal data indicates a slight decline in cannabis use over the past decade — suggesting the "just say no" approach has been effective — authorities are uncertain what affect recreational sale will have on youth. Students do not believe forthcoming prevention, education and enforcement efforts will change many minds about the substance or curtail the desire to try it.

"I feel like when adults talk about [cannabis] to students, they portray it as a super-bad thing," said Jose, a Santa Maria High School junior. Though he has never tried the drug, Jose, 16, said that several of his friends have. They all agree that the way adults portray the drug — often comparing it to harder, more addictive substances — is blown out of proportion.

"For them, if you do it once you're done — you're a bad person and your whole life is changed," he said. "Cannabis, to them, is such a big thing. I don't really understand it."

Lifetime and current cannabis use by students in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District is roughly on-par with countywide averages. Results from a state survey conducted in 2015 indicate that 36 percent of district students report consuming cannabis at least once by 11th grade, a 4-percent decline compared to 2008.

Sal, a 16-year-old junior at Santa Maria High School, remembers trying cannabis for the first time earlier this year. He considered it to be uneventful — "nothing special," he said — and doesn't intend to use again.

"I was with friends when I did it; it was stupid, really," he said. "I felt clumsy and didn't know what I was getting myself into. It wasn't traumatic or anything, but it's not something I'm going to really remember."

Approximately 18 percent of Santa Maria High School 11th-graders regularly consume cannabis, a statistic Sal said is the result of peer pressure and a prevailing desire to belong.

"I think it's overrated, especially when we're talking about youth," he said. "I feel like most kids use [cannabis] because they think they have to in order to fit in."

One Santa Maria High School senior said he regularly consumes cannabis with friends, calling it seemingly harmless and touting the substance's natural properties.

"Marijuana helps people more than it hurts them," the 17-year-old student said. The student declined to provide his name out of concern that his parents would find out about his drug consumption habits.

"It's not an addictive drug," he added. "People are hooked on painkillers and worse substances. Marijuana is natural and I feel it does more help than harm."

Evidence of cannabis' addictive properties and consensus regarding the drug's beneficial properties have yet to be established. Additionally, the notion of cannabis as a gateway drug — a commonly held belief during the height of the D.A.R.E. program — has similarly been called into question and overwhelmingly rejected by students.

"Usually when adults speak about [cannabis], they portray it as a gateway drug," said Carlos, a Santa Maria High School junior who has not consumed cannabis. "I don't see it that way — I know people who have smoked [cannabis] but haven't gone on to do anything else."



Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.

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