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Schools take stand against marijuana
marijuana and schools
Part of the statewide tax on recreational marijuana sales will be used by the California Department of Education to promote health, education and drug prevention. - photo by Photo Contributed

The legalization of recreational marijuana in California has both Turlock Unified School District and the state’s education department offering resources aimed at preventing youth from using the substance.

Proposition 64, besides legalizing the recreational use of cannabis for adults 21 and older, created a tax on commercial cannabis – part of which will eventually be used by the California Department of Education to promote health, education and drug prevention.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced earlier this month that those funds would be used specifically to help students counter the negative effects of marijuana, as well as address vital, unmet needs in already-established programs that have proven effective in preventing students from engaging in risky behaviors.

“This is an excellent time to remind parents, students, educators, administrators and the public about the detrimental effects of marijuana, especially to the developing brains of children,” said Torlakson. “In this new environment we need to be even more vigilant in making certain school-aged children understand the importance of making healthy decisions. We are committed to making sure that new resources will effectively support schools, families, and communities in this charge.”

Proposition 64 does not change regulations regarding use of marijuana by preschool through grade 12 students, and the California Education Code continues to prohibit use, possession, sale and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

The law still contains a number of safeguards against the use of marijuana by those under 21 years of age, including the barring of advertising aimed at children or displayed within 1,000 feet of a school, day care or youth center, prohibition of marijuana businesses within 600 feet of a school, day care or youth center and the barring of anyone under the age of 21 from working for a marijuana business or being on the premises of a recreational marijuana retailer.

Within TUSD, Director of Student Services Gil Ogden said that prior to legalization, marijuana use and possession were both infrequent during school hours and at school sites. In fact, most students who do partake in marijuana use do so outside of district schools, he said, such as on the way to school in the morning or after school on the way home.

“Students may come to school under the influence or have a strong odor of marijuana on their clothes or backpacks,” said Ogden.

TUSD has always taken strong anti-drug education measures to prevent marijuana use even before the passage of Proposition 64, Ogden added. The district’s Red Ribbon Week emphasizes the drug-free message, and all TUSD campuses are closely monitored by campus staff and the Turlock Police Department.

According to the California Healthy Kids Student Survey, which is given to students in grades 7, 9 and 11 by the district every two years, alcohol use among students has trended downward significantly over the last eight years. While marijuana use has trended downward in grades 7 and 9 during that same timeframe, the number has remained static at the 11th grade level.

From 2008-09 to 2016-17, 11th graders taking part in the self-reported usage survey who have tried marijuana has varied from the lowest amount, 32 percent of students in 2016-17, to the highest amount, 35 percent of students in 2012-13.

While there has not been an increase in marijuana infractions amongst students since Proposition 64 was passed, Ogden said that odor has been an issue on some campuses. There has been a significant increase in the number of students whose belongings and clothes smell like marijuana, oftentimes because of parental use at home.

“In some situations, students are requested to call home for a change of clothes,” said Ogden. “This happens because the strong odor becomes overwhelming in the classroom and other students report that it is disrupting their education.”

Programs already in place on each of the district’s high school campus are aimed at putting an end to the abuse of other substances, like tobacco. Both Pitman and Turlock high schools have Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco clubs on campus, which have promoted a strong anti-tobacco message while teaching students about the corrupt tobacco industry.

Self-reported usage of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana throughout the district have decreased, however, alcohol use is declining at a much steeper rate than marijuana, Ogden said. Still, alcohol usage among TUSD students is two to three times greater than marijuana usage.

To continue dissuading students from using both alcohol and marijuana, THS principal Gabe Ontiveros is working with staff to develop a health curriculum for 9th graders which will utilize Kinesiology interns from Stanislaus State to teach the perils of drug usage.

“A main part of the program teaches students how to resist peer pressure, which is a large component of teen drug experimentation,” said Ogden. “In fact, the majority of teens report peer pressure as the primary reason for initial alcohol or marijuana usage.”

The new CDE web page ( contains a section about Proposition 64 and provides information to assist students, parents, educators and local education agencies in the prevention and intervention of cannabis use.