by Colin Cortbus
An explicit student-produced online documentary depicts a rampant culture of illicit drug taking by students at a top Portland public school, just months after recreational marijuana legalization came into effect in mid-2015. The filmmaker says Oregon should not have legalized Marijuana without implementing a comprehensive strategy to protect minors from the drug.
The film, called “Weed Documentary 2016 – High School” appeared online earlier this month. It suggests an escalating problem with illicit student drug use at the public Cleveland High School in Southeast Portland, where the film’s producer, student Ben Grayzel, graduated in 2015.
In footage shot in January 2016, health teacher Jeff Zerba says “I think it is rampant, I think everybody uses it”. High schoolers in the film are seen consuming the drug, and express similar sentiments about the prevalence of drugs at the public school. In footage shot in a park close to the school in October 2015, one senior says “It’s so easy for us to get weed, to the point where it is like easier than getting water. I’ve had mornings where I smoke weed before I have even ate anything”.
An 8th grader who is in the company of Cleveland High students says “I’m fourteen, I started smoking when I was maybe twelve… I’m getting high pretty much every day”.
The film also raises concerns about increasing numbers of students abusing prescription medication like Xanax recreationally.
When Oregon debated the legalization of weed in 2014, campaigners from the Pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, a non-partisan group back financially by well-known left-winger George Soros, said that the move would be the best way to protect minors from the drug. “People often confuse prohibition with control…We have an opportunity to create a responsible industry”, Dr. Amanda Reiman, an academic at the ultra-liberal UC Berkeley and policy official for the campaign group, told The Oregonian back then.
Half a year after legalization came into effect, comments by Cleveland High’s teacher Jeff Zerba, however, paint a very different, much bleaker picture regarding the extent to which access to drugs at schools has been responsibly controlled. In the film, he says, “This is me, I don’t think we do enough, it seems like we talk about it in a staff meeting and then it goes away or we bring in somebody who talks to the staff and then it is done with for a year or two.”
Zerba suggests greater efforts are needed to tackle the problem at the school head on, but then seems to suggest school officials may be reluctant or incompetent to do so, commenting “And I don’t know if that’s a publicity thing, that Portland Public Schools or Cleveland – don’t take this out of context – but maybe they just don’t want that to get to the press, maybe they don’t know how to do it, maybe they are trying and I am just not seeing it, I don’t know.”
Neither Cleveland High School’s Principal, nor teacher Jeff Zerba responded to requests by Oregon Catalyst for comment. Jon Isaacs, the head of communications for Portland Public Schools, told us that they coordinate on a daily basis with the police to limit student access to drugs. He outlined a number of measures that have been taken at Cleveland High School since films about drug abuse at the school first appeared in 2015, including educating teachers about intervention protocols, liaising with parents, and facilitating drug treatment services. He also said that “most” students featured in an earlier film made by Ben Grayzel in 2015 about drug abuse at Cleveland High are no longer attending the school.
Jenni Knaus, an administrative specialist at the Oregon Department for Education, said that while drug use in schools is always concerning “The video provided was not something we were familiar with at the Department, and given the circumstances surrounding the documentary-style video it is hard to generalize one student and one teacher’s comments to represent an entire school or school district”. Asked whether the legalization of recreational marijuana had contributed to illicit drug issues at Oregon schools, Knaus responded vaguely “It is too early to address these questions as the situation is still developing and data is not yet available”.
The producer of the high school marijuana film, Ben Grayzel, a Cleveland High graduate who is now a student at Quest University in West-Coast Canada, struck a cautionary note about legalization. Speaking to Oregon Catalyst, he warned “I think that it was entirely irresponsible of the state of Oregon to legalize without implementing some sort of drug education program for adolescents. In making this film I was surprised by the lack of knowledge most of these kids had about the development effects of habitual marijuana use”.
Grayzel said there was a need to move away from outdated, failing drug-education efforts and introduce a “more comprehensive drug education program in all public schools”. Research emphasizes that adolescent marijuana use can have seriously negative effects on educational achievement, mental health, can lead to later life drug dependence, and is linked to an increased risk of dropping out of school.
“Right now” Grayzel says, “there’s a whole generation of kids who are constantly stoned without really seeing it as a problem. I worry that we will regret not doing more to address the issue of adolescent use in this time of change and legalization”.
If we don’t stop seeing teenage drug use through the radical left’s rose-tinted spectacles, is there a risk that a whole generation of Oregon high schoolers is being left behind?