Use of marijuana doesn't change, attitude does

2012-06-10T00:00:00Z 2012-06-10T22:53:04Z Use of marijuana doesn't change, attitude doesBy Lindsay Machak lindsay.machak@nwi.com, (219) 933-3246 nwitimes.com

Whether they call it kush, loud or weed, Officer Wilson Pierce can smell the freshly smoked marijuana on students as they file into their morning classes.

Pierce, a Lansing police detective who works in the schools and is stationed at Thornton Fractional South High School, shakes his head at the thought of students getting high before school.

"You come in here blowed and in the same breath, you're blowing your day," he said.

The number of drug offenses going through the juvenile court system in local Indiana courts have not drastically changed over the last 10 years. However, officials have seen a change in the attitude toward teenage drug use. Pierce said the same is true for local Illinois communities.

School officials and law enforcement officers across Lake and Porter counties and Illinois' Cook County have seen a more passive attitude toward using drugs in the teens of this generation -- and among some of their parents as well.

"They try to downplay it like a cigarette," Pierce said. "But at the end of the day, it's wrong -- it's illegal."

Marijuana has been the most frequently prosecuted drug offense from 2001 through 2011 in both Lake and Porter county juvenile courts, records show.

In Lake County, the juvenile court system processes hundreds of drug cases each year. In 2011, the court handled 267 juvenile drug cases with the majority of them related to marijuana.

Porter County court officials process about 100 juvenile marijuana cases every year.

In noting how parents' attitudes toward drug use have become more lax over the 17 years he's been with the county, Porter County Drug Task Force Coordinator Robert Taylor said he's concerned with a growing trend of substance abuse being passed from one generation to the next.

"You can't just paint it as a kid's problem," he said. "It's an adult problem.

"I've arrested Mom and Dad, and now I'm arresting their 17-year-old son or 17-year-old daughter," he said.

Children are watching parents and learning from their behaviors, Taylor said.

As part of the drug task force, he's one of the officials trying to address the problem by talking to parents and children.

Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, who's been tackling teen drug abuse cases for more than 30 years, said she, too, has seen a more relaxed view by parents evolve.

She is less bothered by teens' cavalier attitude toward drug use than she is by parents who casually admit to using drugs with their children.

Bonaventura said she's seen those kinds of cases more frequently over the last 10 years.

"(Some parents) say, 'at least my kid isn't using heroin,' " she said.

But the judge has seen that, too.

In one case, a father and son came before her after selling everything they owned to feed their heroin addiction. Years ago, that would have been a story she would have read about in national headlines instead of seeing it in her own courtroom, she said.

"It's really heartbreaking," she said.

And although home may be where some of the problems start, school officials often are the ones expected to help discourage illegal drug abuse, Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Myrtle Campbell said.

"The national conversations in past years had no tinge of condoning the use of marijuana," she said. "The conversations now have sort of embraced, sometimes, the use of that."

School officials are using preventative programs as one of the best tools to help students choose to stay away from drugs, she said.

But sometimes students don't heed the advice and get caught using drugs by school police officers. If a student is caught with drugs in a Gary school, he or she will be referred for expulsion.

"An alternative to expulsion is they would have to commit to going through the life-skills program," Campbell said.

The intensive program teaches them about the dangers of drug use and what other problems drugs can cause.

Officials at T.F. South also have programs in place to urge students in the right direction, including a mentoring program to keep kids active, Pierce said.

But it still falls to police and school officials to enforce the law.

"Drug usage is not acceptable -- even if it is marijuana," Pierce said. "It's still an illegal drug no matter how you feel about it."

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