Marijuana: School Suspension May Lead To More Pot Use Among Teens


Suspending kids from school for using marijuana will lead to more -- not less -- pot use, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Washington and in Australia found that students attending schools with suspension policies for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely than their peers at schools without such policies to use marijuana in the next year -- and that was the case with the student body as a whole, not just those who were suspended.

"That was surprising to us," Richard Catalano, co-author of the study and a professor of social work, said in a statement. "It means that suspensions are certainly not having a deterrent effect. It's just the opposite."

By contrast, the study found that students attending schools with policies of referring pot-using students to a school counselor were almost 50 percent less likely to use marijuana. Other ways of responding to policy violators, such as sending them to educational programs, expelling them or calling the police, were found to have no significant impact on marijuana use.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from the International Youth Development Study, a long-term initiative started in 2002 to examine behaviors among young people in Washington and Victoria. The two states were chosen since they are similar in size and demographics, but differ considerably in their approaches to drug use among students. Washington schools are more likely to suspend students, call police or require offenders to attend education or cessation programs, the researchers note, while Victoria schools emphasize a harm-reduction approach that favors counseling.

Researchers surveyed more than 3,200 seventh- and ninth-graders and nearly 200 school administrators in both 2002 and 2003.

Tracy Evans-Whipp, the study's lead author, said though the policies and marijuana use studied predate marijuana legalization in Washington, the findings provide useful insights about what types of school policies are most effective in steering teens away from the drug.

"Cross-national similarities in our findings suggest that school policy impacts on student marijuana use are unlikely to change, despite Washington legalizing marijuana," Evans-Whipp said.

Research has shown a consistent link between increased access to marijuana and higher rates of self-reported use by adolescents, the study notes. In Washington and Colorado, where recreational marijuana use by adults was also legalized in 2012, school systems have new responsibilities to adequately educate students about marijuana and respond effectively when teens are caught using it, Catalano said.

"To reduce marijuana use among all students, we need to ensure that schools are using drug policies that respond to policy violations by educating or counseling students, not just penalizing them," he said.

The findings are detailed in the American Journal of Public Health.

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