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Battle Against Marijuana Use Heats Up

The BAY Team, Barrington's coalition against substance abuse, is receiving a yearly $75,000 grant to ramp up its effort to cut into marijuana use.

Battle Against Marijuana Use Heats Up

The BAY Team, Barrington’s community coalition to prevent substance abuse, officially announced on Monday, Jan. 30, the award of a $75,000 annual grant to battle the use of marijuana by teens.

The federal block grant comes via Rhode Island’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to help reduce the use of marijuana and other drugs in Barrington. 

The BAY Team’s program manager, Kristen Westmoreland, said: “The grant was awarded in response to Rhode Island’s top ranking for marijuana use in the past year.”

The yearly award of $75,000 for the next three to five years will encompass a variety of strategies and activities at Barrington High School and within the community of Barrington, she said. Among those strategies was the hiring of Deb Perugini to serve as marijuana project coordinator. (See Patch story on Perugini.)

Some of the specific goals include lowering the use of marijuana and other drugs by high school students, and clarifying the risks of marijuana use.  Some of the sobering statistics include:

  • Highest rate of past year use among 18 – 25 year olds
  • Number one state (along with VT and CO) for marijuana use among 12 – 17 year olds
  • RI students are 10% more likely to begin marijuana use at an earlier age than their US peers

Long-term studies demonstrate there are both short term and long term negative effects of using marijuana including:

  • Attention, learning and memory problems
  • Impaired driving due to delayed reaction time
  • Increased risk of respiratory disease and cancer
  • Addiction

Westmoreland said The BAY Team’s “2011 survey of Barrington students in grades 6 to 12 revealed that marijuana continued to be the second most commonly used substance with:

  • 24% of high school students reporting past 30 day use
  • More than one-third of high school students reporting trying marijuana

Overall, a few key findings are a concern for The BAY Team, she said.

Most notably, ninth-grade students reported a higher incidence of use and a lower rating for risk of harm in smoking marijuana compared to ninth-graders in 2009.

“When one’s perception of how harmful a particular substance is to use declines, we generally see an increase in use,” Westmoreland said. 

Interestingly, two-thirds of high school students believe that at least half of the students at the high school smoke marijuana, compared to one-third that admits to actually having tried it, she said.

“This disconnect in actual use and perception of use, coupled with the declining perceptions of risk, highlights a potential target area for the BAY Team’s social norms campaign and prevention education at the high school,” she said.

“It is imperative that we increase our focus on preventing student marijuana use before it starts and decreasing use where it has already begun,” she said. “Failure to act now will undoubtedly lead to increased consequences for our community in the future.”

“This funding opportunity comes at a crucial time,” she said. “As a community, we have the ability to educate and support our students in an effort to reduce marijuana use in Barrington and help keep our students healthy.

Visit The BAY Team website for the full report.

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