Suspending kids from school for using pot is not an effective
deterrent, in fact it can lead to more — not less — use, according
to a study by researchers at the University of Washington and in
Counseling and promotion of an abstinence message in schools
were found to be much more effective, according to an article about
the study that was
published March 19 in the American Journal of Public
The study, conducted in 2002 and 2003, compared drug policies at
schools in Washington State and Victoria, Australia, to determine
how they impacted student marijuana use.
The researchers were initially most interested in teens’ use of
alcohol and cigarettes, according to a news release about the
article from the University of Washington. But after Washington
legalized recreational marijuana use for adults in 2012,
researchers decided to reexamine the data to see how legalization
might influence students in Washington versus their counterparts in
Australia, where pot remains illegal, said Deborah Bach, a social
science writer at the UW.
They found students attending schools with suspension policies
for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely than their peers at
schools without such policies to use marijuana in the next year.
That was true for the whole student body, not just those who were
“That was surprising to us,” said co-author Richard Catalano,
professor of social work and co-founder of the Social Development
Research Group at the University of Washington’s School of Social
Work. “It means that suspensions are certainly not having a
deterrent effect. It’s just the opposite.”
This echoes reporting we did in the Kitsap Sun about student
discipline in general, in which educators and child advocates
from many corners said suspension and expulsion are ineffective at
reversing undesirable behavior.
Conversely, in schools with policies of referring pot-using
students to a school counselor, students were almost 50 percent
less likely to use marijuana.
Washington and Victoria, Australia were chosen for the study
since they are similar in size and demographics, but differ
considerably in their approaches to drug use among students.
Washington schools, at least at the time of the study, were more
likely to suspend students, call police or require offenders to
attend education or cessation programs, the researchers noted,
while Victoria schools emphasize “a harm-reduction approach that
Researchers surveyed more than 3,200 seventh- and ninth-graders
in both 2002 and 2003 about their use of marijuana, alcohol and
cigarettes and also about their schools’ drug policies and
enforcement. Nearly 200 school administrators were also surveyed.
In both survey years, pot use was higher among the Washington
students. Almost 12 percent of Washington ninth-graders had used
marijuana in the past month, compared with just over 9 percent of
Victoria ninth-graders, for example.
Tracy Evans-Whipp, the study’s lead author, said although the
research predated Washington’s legalization, the findings show what
types of school policies are most effective in discouraging teens’
use of the drug.
The study also showed “a consistent link” between increased
acccess to marijuana and higher rates of self-reported use by
adolescents, Bach notes.
“To reduce marijuana use among all students, we need to ensure
that schools are using drug policies that respond to policy
violations by educating or counseling students, not just penalizing
them,” Catalano said.
Others involved in the research are are Todd Herrenkohl at the
UW, Stephanie Plenty at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in
Sweden and John Toumbourou at Deakin University in Australia.
Chros Henry, Kitsap Sun education reporter
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