DOPE 'IS ROBBING STUDENTS OF DRIVE'
Author: Natasha Harris
Northern Advocate (New Zealand)
Fri, 26 May 2006
Marijuana is sapping young Northlanders' motivation, memory and ambition - sparking calls for tougher penalties against dealers who target schoolkids.
A national campaign to make dope-smoking look "uncool" is also badly needed, according to police and a high school principal.
Whangarei campus cop Hank van Engelen and Dargaville High School principal David Bargh say marijuana is destroying teenagers' lives by robbing them of their desire to learn.
With Northland's harvest hitting the streets, increasing numbers of Northland teens are turning up stoned or smoking at school.
Mr van Engelen and Mr Bargh say drug dealers think nothing of peddling marijuana to teenagers, so they want judges to impose harsher penalties. A signal needed to be sent that dope was as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
"The rules need to be enforced ... otherwise society's saying marijuana's OK," Mr van Engelen said.
The men also want an advertising blitz similar to the "don't drink and drive" campaign, to stamp out what they say is Northland's pervasive cannabis culture.
"I think there's an acceptance that marijuana is OK. We should be making it look really uncool and not glamorous, because a lot of kids think it's cool," Mr Bargh said.
Mr van Engelen believed constant warnings about methamphetamine, or P, made people forget how destructive marijuana could be.
"It's like a big black cloud. You have a kid that's doing really well, then they start smoking marijuana and they can't seem to get out," Mr van Engelen said.
Recently Bream Bay College caught four students in a week smoking marijuana at school.
At Dargaville High, socials have been canned - in part because a stoned and drunk third-former smashed a window and threatened teachers.
According to Whangarei youth drug and alcohol service Rubicon, some Northland youth are smoking marijuana four times a day.
Manager Jenny Gibbs supported tougher penalties for drug dealers, and said there were "tinnie houses on every corner".
Currently Rubicon puts about 12 pot-smoking students aged 11-17 on "drug contracts" each week. The contracts are one-year agreements to stay off marijuana, signed by the student and police.
Most of Mrs Gibbs' clientele are Maori girls aged 13-15.
She said alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes are the three most common drugs used by students.
As for P, principals say a few pupils have dabbled in the drug - but it is hard to detect because it is odourless and lacks tell-tale signs like bloodshot eyes.
Some Northland high schools have jumped at the chance to host a hard-hitting P seminar by two former Northland detectives.
Methcon Group, set up this year to advise businesses on how to spot workers hooked on P, is touring 10 schools with a presentation packed with shocking pictures and videos.
Methcon co-owner Mike Sabin said some of the students told him saying they would never touch P after seeing its effects.
"Kids are saying, 'I had no idea it was that bad'."
* Your whole future can go up in smoke, says student
Grant used to love watching his son play rugby and cricket.
That was until the Whangarei 14-year-old traded the sports field for a seat on the couch.
What Grant didn't know was that David, not his real name, had taken to smoking marijuana at the weekends.
It wasn't until David got into trouble at Kamo High School for giving a joint to a friend that his father found out about his six-month habit.
"I said to him it's a natural progression to smoke P and I'm absolutely terrified," Grant said.
This month David was kicked out of school for smoking marijuana while on a no-drugs contract.
"My wife and I are absolutely devastated. We don't know how long it'll be until he starts school again," Grant said.
Under the law, schools don't have to enrol an expelled student. Today Grant and his wife will find out if Kamo High has been able to find a school that will accept David.
"The longer that he doesn't go to school, the more he loses motivation," Grant said.
Grant was disappointed the school did not give his son another chance to prove he could stay off marijuana. The school could not be reached for comment yesterday.
David said he started smoking marijuana after his older brother offered him a joint, and it made him "feel happy". He bought his supply from a tinny house.
He took it up again after a six-month break because "I was with all my mates and I hadn't smoked it in ages and just wanted a buzz".
"I regret it a lot now because I don't want to go to another school."
His advice for other teens? "Don't smoke it because if you get kicked out of school another school might not take you and it stuffs up your future."
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