Suspending teens for pot leads to more use, study finds

By Oscar Pascual |

Punishing students with in-home suspensions for getting caught with marijuana could lead to kids smoking even more pot, researchers say.

A study conducted by researchers from Washington state and Victoria, Australia compared the drug policies of both locations to determine how they influence marijuana use in students.

The results, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, found that students attending schools with suspension policies for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely to use them again, compared to schools with alternative methods of dealing with the issue.

“That was surprising to us,” said study co-author Richard Catalano, professor 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.”

The study also found that students attending schools with policies that favor drug counseling were almost 50 percent less likely to use marijuana again. Other policies such as drug education, nurse referrals, or police involvement were found to have no significant effect.

The joint researchers chose the two studied locations because the schools had similar size and demographics, but employ contrasting methods to curb student drug use. Washington’s schools prefer to suspend students or involve police, while Victoria schools emphasize harm reduction and counseling.

Researchers took surveys from more than 3,200 seventh and ninth grade students and nearly 200 school administrators in 2002 and 2003. Marijuana use was higher among suspension-recieving students — almost 12 percent of Washington ninth-graders had smoked pot, compared to just 9 percent of Victoria’s ninth-grade students.

Even though the data was recorded before Washington legalized marijuana, the research shows that teens could benefit more from talking about their pot use rather than getting punished for it.

“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.

Photo Credit: Bloody Disgusting