By Madeline Shannon of the Daily Courier
With referrals for marijuana on the rise in Josephine County, local middle and high school principals are frustrated with the amount of access teens have to marijuana and its related products.
"THC oil is a huge deal and students can medicate with oil rather than smoke it," said Hidden Valley High School Principal Daye Stone. "They can bring edibles to school and pack it in their lunch, for instance."
The prevalence of teens having access to marijuana has led to an increase of marijuana-related referrals at the Josephine County Juvenile Department. Officials there have seen a steady increase in cannabis-related referrals over the last few years.
Jim Goodwin, the director of the Juvenile Department, said referrals went from 28 in 2013 to 35 in 2014, leveled off for one year in 2015, then jumped to 57 in 2016.
"When I ran the numbers, it seemed like we're getting a lot more referrals," said Goodwin. "We're on track to hit 70 this year."
Measure 91 legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 in Oregon, but didn't take effect until 2015. That's when the state started granting licenses to recreational marijuana dispensaries, growers, manufacturers and other facilities.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and fear of increased use by youths remains a major impediment to congressional re-evaluation.
According to the federal government's Cole Memorandum, youth abuse of marijuana and its related products is the government's No. 1 concern in relation to the various states' legalization of marijuana.
The Cole Memo was drafted during the Obama administration and is barely tolerated as policy the Trump administration, where U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made thinly veiled threats of a crackdown.
With the rise of legal marijuana processors in Southern Oregon, availability of the drug has increased. That means there's greater access for teenagers.
"If you legalize things, it's easier for everybody to get their hands on it," said Illinois Valley High School Principal Tanner Smith. "That what's tough, because it trickles down to kids."
Goodwin maintains that there's a major pot-smoking problem among local teens. He approached the county Board of Commissioners last month, stating he's seen a rise in marijuana referrals of local teenagers.
According to Goodwin, most referrals are coming from the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety, since the Sheriff's Office is too understaffed to respond to every incidence of students in the county using marijuana products.
Enforcement is made even more difficult by the fact that Three Rivers schools don't have school resource officers.
However, it's hard to say for sure which of the county schools are sending more students Goodwin's way.
None of the Three Rivers schools could supply numbers of students being referred to the county's Juvenile Department for marijuana-related infractions, and officials at Grants Pass High School said they haven't seen much of a problem with it.
"We've actually had zero referrals for marijuana so far this school year," said GPHS Principal Ryan Thompson. "That's down sharply from last year."
However, administrators say anecdotal evidence suggests students are using it more in general, just not at school.
"The only thing I'm aware of is that many of my students smell like marijuana," said North Valley High School Assistant Principal Linda McClanahan. "But it isn't that they're using or under the influence. They actually live in grows, and that's been an issue."
When students at county schools are caught smoking or carrying marijuana at school, schools may choose to involve law enforcement, which works with students and their families to get the student to stop using the drug.
If a student is caught a second or third time, the Juvenile Department can take the juvenile to court, at which time the offense goes on the student's record.
Schools attempt to cut down on incidences of students smoking marijuana on campus by accounting for more student time during the day. A recent switch on the part of Grants Pass High School gives students less opportunity to take a smoke break.
"We used to have an intervention period where kids get extra help or reassessment," said Thompson. "Students not requested by a teacher had open time, so with this year's changed schedule, we've seen a sharp decline in major referrals since this time last year."
While Grants Pass-area principals report small numbers of marijuana referrals, Goodwin maintains that referrals are continuing to go up.
"It's just like mom and dad's liquor cabinet now," said Goodwin. "It's easier to hide than alcohol, too. You can't put a case of beer in your sock."
Reach Daily Courier reporter Madeline Shannon at 541-474-3813 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Number of youth marijuana-related referrals in Josephine County:
2017 on track for 70