January 22, 2018
Good morning esteemed members of the Illinois General Assembly
My name is Molly Lotz. I am a School Social Worker and Counselor from Colorado. When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana consumption and sales I was working in an alternative school in a mountain town. Still working at the same school, two years later, and after early sales of recreational marijuana, my students started to come to me and ask for straightforward information on how marijuana use might affect the developing brain. They had been exposed to a DARE type of program during their early education and now, just 6 years later, legalized recreational marijuana was my students’ reality. They had parents who were using recreationally, they had grandparents who were using marijuana medicinally and I realized that in Colorado at least, we couldn’t teach marijuana to our youth in the same way as other substances. We had to tease out marijuana education and not lump it with heroin and methamphetamine. My students needed, and were, in fact, asking for accurate, fact-based, not fear-based, information on how marijuana might affect them and their developing bodies and brains. I took a look and found not a single post-legalization, marijuana-specific curriculum available to help me support my students navigate this new reality.
So I teamed up with a fellow educator and we decided to create what our students were asking for: A comprehensive marijuana-specific, curriculum that informs and empowers youth using up-to-date research and information on how marijuana use affects them. What we knew is that youth needed the facts about how marijuana affects them and understand the difference between adult use and youth use as well as recreational use and medicinal use. We created a program that promotes delaying first use and/or abstinence during adolescence by supporting youth’s self-efficacy and to inform them using honest and accurate information. Recognizing the detrimental educational impacts of a marijuana policy violation, we also created a program that allows administrators to keep kids with a marijuana policy infraction in schools and at the same time still addressing the policy violation in an effective way thus disruption the school to suspension to drip out to prison pipeline.
This approach has been shown to increase youths’ perception of risk around youth marijuana use while at the same time not vilifying the adults in their life who may use medicinally or recreationally. Youth need to be made aware of increasing marijuana potencies and concentrates as well as how early marijuana use can impact brain and cognitive development and functioning. Youth need to know that a marijuana policy violation in their school or community can lead to long term consequences like impacting educational opportunities such as FAFSA eligibility and a possible school suspension or expulsion. If we don’t give our youth this information to accompany recreational marijuana campaigns or commercial rollout, we are doing them a great disservice. Additionally, if we doing acknowledge and educate youth on how their classmates may be using marijuana medicinally we are going backwards and not evolving with the changing landscape. We have to help educators find the balance between educating youth about the risks of adolescent recreational use and providing a safe and compassionate environment for medicinal needs. Old drug education programs do not do this.
One of the top issues on voter’s minds is youth marijuana access and education. Colorado legalized before proper marijuana educational programs were in place and is not paying catch up. Illinois can prevent this. Several Colorado schools and youth serving organizations have already adopted this progressive approach to youth marijuana education. I would ask that as you develop recreational marijuana policies and appropriations that you consider implementing a progressive youth marijuana educational campaign so you can go to your constituents and feel confident that there is an effective solution to addressing the concerns around youth access and education.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
Molly Lotz, LCSW
Co-founder of Marijuana Education Initiative
School Social Worker