BETHESDA, Md. – Lauren Cohen was in 7th grade when she tried her first marijuana joint. She said she did it for experience and to fit in with the cool crowd.
“I was little and I thought I was the coolest person if I did,” the Winston Churchill sophomore said. It was fun, she said. “It gives you something to do, takes off pressure with parents, school and problems.”
But Cohen said she stopped smoking “weed” in the 9th grade when she changed schools and made new friends. She said realized she was wasting time. Now, the 14-year-old said, she supports a proposal from President Clinton to try to get others to stop.
Clinton, in an Oct. 19 radio address, asked the White House drug policy director and the Transportation Department secretary to develop a plan that would force teen-agers to pass a drug test before receiving their driver’s license. Clinton asked for the plan in 90 days.
“It’s safer for everybody,” Cohen said. “It will stop kids from doing drugs and driving.”
Cohen was one of 14 teen-agers recently interviewed who said she supported Clinton’s proposal. Twenty-two were stopped in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, in malls and outside Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt.
“We have a big drug problem and this is one way to get through to” teen-agers, said Lindsey Daughters, 15, a Winston Churchill sophomore stopped at Montgomery Mall. “Teen-agers today really want to get their license and maybe they’ll think about using drugs.”
But Thomas Maddox, 17, an Eleanor Roosevelt High School senior, said the plan will not prevent teen-agers from using drugs. “They’re just going to stop taking drugs” before taking the test, “then take them after the test.”
Others said the test would unfairly pick on teen-agers.
“If he’s going to give it to teens, he might as well give it to adults,” said Kelly Curran, 15, a Wheaton High School sophomore. “No matter what people will say, [teen-agers] will still take drugs.”
At least one drug policy expert agreed. Peter Reuter, a University of Maryland public affairs professor, said the plan is useless.
“I think it’s intrusive, expensive and accomplishes little,” said the public affairs professor. “Taking their permit or driver’s license is not going to solve that problem.”
Between 1992 and 1995 the percentage of U.S. youths 12-17 who had used drugs within the last month doubled from an all-time low of 5.3 percent to 10.9 percent, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The same survey found that between 1992 and 1995, marijuana use more than doubled for teens, from 3.4 to 8.2 percent.
“There is less perception for harm with marijuana for teen- agers,” said John Sullivan, addiction service coordinator for Prince George’s Medical Center. “You can smoke marijuana and appear to be OK, but you will have a problem with it eventually.”
Sullivan said many teen-agers are children of the Baby Boom generation, which experimented with drugs in the 1960s. The children hold their parents as examples that nothing bad can happen from smoking marijuana.
“The kids see that and say, `marijuana is not that bad,’ ” Sullivan said.
By 12th grade, 42 percent of Maryland students said they had tried or were currently using marijuana, a 1994 Maryland Adolescent Survey showed.
During the 1994-’95 school year, 1,770 students out of 772,104 were suspended from Maryland public high schools for drug-related offenses, the state Department of Education reported.
“I think it’s just curiosity,” said Darclei McGregor, a specialist in the Montgomery Medical Center Adolescent Program. “They like the effect and want to experiment with other drugs.”
That was the case with Roseann Drury. The 14-year-old Rockville resident said she smoked her first marijuana joint when she was 11, because she saw her friend do it and thought it looked cool.
From that day on, she said she began a regular routine of smoking, drinking and searching for the next drug to use. By the time she was 14 she had experimented with LSD, heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs she found around the house, she said.
“They [ruined] my life,” Drury said. She entered a 12-step rehabilitation program in September and has since become “a lot more aware of what I’m doing,” she said.
Drury is not alone in seeking help. Between July 1, 1992, and June 30, 1995, adolescents admitted into Maryland drug and substance abuse programs for using marijuana increased 116 percent, according to a report by the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.
Between July 1, 1994, and June 30, 1995, 4,933 teen-agers in Maryland under 18 were admitted into treatment programs for marijuana use – about 25 percent of all patients admitted for that problem.
Most students say the reason drug use is rising is its availability in their schools.
“It’s everywhere,” said LeVar Robinson, 18, an Arundel High School senior. “Not just in high school, in middle school. It’s so easy to get.”
McGregor believes parents and children need to become more educated on the issue and not be afraid to talk openly about it. She said the government can help with more programs.
“I think [drugs] will always be there, but hopefully people will learn to cope better,” McGregor said.
As for Clinton’s mandatory drug-testing proposal, McGregor said it’s a good start, but not enough. “It has to start much … earlier,” she said. -30-