Local school officials invaded our children's privacy using police powers in their zeal to address use of marijuana like local vigilantes.
And what did they find? Zip, zilch, zero, nada. The joke is on them and on their silly Keystone Kops operation. As for the rest of us citizens, are we all dead from the neck up? Where is the outrage? This terrible precedent will come back to haunt us all.
Some young people want what our grandparents fought and broke the law for almost a century ago: the right to their own drug of choice, and for which we now have a liquor store on every corner.
During a prior meeting for dialogue with youth at City Hall, several young people, respectful in tone and abiding by rules of civil discourse, pled for less severe punishment for "users."
They bravely made their case before school authorities and other town leaders, none of whom was about to defend the students — not for their use of marijuana but for the right to be treated unhypocritically.
Later, some school nurses published a letter supporting the call for a new marijuana ordinance, with a laundry list of dangers associated with its use. Five signed the letter, but are there others with a different viewpoint, and would they feel free to say so without fear for their jobs and reputations?
Thankfully, a School Committee meeting braved the topic, where even the high school principal allowed that he has seen more alcohol than marijuana problems, and the Youth Services director wisely reminded us that education regarding marijuana use must begin before freshmen years, and is not a problem that can be resolved by high school administrators.
But we make marijuana and its users the scapegoats for all that is wrong with the rest of us. A policy analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy noted that unfair laws typically leave young users with harsh sentences that destroy their lives; that criminalization leaves organized crime in control of the problem; and that prohibition has miserably failed.
There is gross hypocrisy in local efforts to control a "problem" and a self-righteousness to the objections. We divide substance abuse into one of "drugs and alcohol," as if alcohol is not a drug. And, as with 20th century Prohibition, organized crime runs the show.
Our parents or grandparents, young and full of life, had a grand old time in "speakeasies" while flaunting the law in their day. Movies and TV programs still romanticize that era, with roles for the hottest stars that send a terrible message to youth. It was a time to die for, and has been ever since. Alcohol abuse is winked at, while causing more cost and damage to society than other "drugs" combined.
We can't win a war against marijuana today because we lost the biggest one of all years ago, against booze, along with any high moral ground. As long as we continue to be harsh and unforgiving toward the young regarding their drug of choice, the worse we look and the less we are listened to.
We should apologize to our young people for the moral failure of our and previous generations regarding destructive substances like alcohol, of which many of us are regular users, thanks to law-breaking of an earlier day. We should admit that what we now see as a "problem" is one that belongs to everyone, and promise to work together toward a civilized and fair resolution. Let's begin with a real dialogue that may take many meetings and many hours, but will at last leave us all with mutual and self-respect. We are demeaning our young people with infamous "lockdowns" and disregarding their concerns. We can change that, beginning now, and include all such concerns in a spirit of community.
Two members of the School Committee made a good start: Steve Cole called for a rewrite of the student policy manual to allow "assessments" for first-time violators, and for "restorative justice": welcome and compassionate phrases amid all the finger-pointing by other city leaders. Bruce Menin added that zero-tolerance policies are no help and at their worst "break the relationship" between generations.
But are there any other voices of reason?
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John Burciaga lives in Newburyport.