When hope disappears, drugs appear: Marijuana town hall addresses social aspects of legalizing weed

CINCINNATI - There’s a reason for the gold necklace hanging off  Dr. Rodney M. Coates’ neck as he takes to the podium in a banquet room at the Holiday Inn in Sharonville.

For Coates, it’s a catalyst.

“I wore a gold piece on my neck the last time I got high; the last time I got stoned on crack,” Coates, the Interim Director of Black World Studies at Miami University, said, because it cost as much as the drugs he was doing.

"When hope disappears, drugs appear," Coates said, and his statements echoed those of others who spoke at the 24th annual Urban Minority and Drug Abuse Outreach Programs’ Conference on Friday morning.

Friday morning’s Town Hall addressing the social implications of legalizing Marijuana ended a three-day empowerment conference focusing on African and Hispanic/Latino American substance abuse.

“Give me a shout out for the hood,” Coates instructed to a crowd of over 80 people. “So yeah, I’m a hood rat. I grew up right outside the projects… in our family it’s one of those things where when you go to jail, you just reunite.”

America’s drug problem isn’t one of color, Coates explains, because “this is not a black problem, this is an America problem.”

The Coalition for a Drug Free Cincinnati knows how much of a problem drugs, including marijuana, are here at home. The coalition surveys local teens about drug use to get an idea of what Cincinnati-area kids think about lighting up and getting high.

“We try to limit access, we are trying  to expand early intervention and put in impact policies that have long term change,”  said President Mary Haag.

These changes are a challenge when 11 percent of 7th to 12th grade students say they’ve used marijuana in the past 30 days.

Coalition data also showed that a person is, on average, 13.7 years old when they try the drug for the first time.

“The kids surveyed perceive the risk of marijuana at a rate of 70 percent, much lower than harder drugs and tobacco, but not quite as low as alcohol,” Haag said, adding that 67 percent disapprove of lighting up and smoking weed.

Still, with 93 percent of surveyed parents saying they disapprove marijuana use, usage numbers are on the rise.

Another staggering statistic, from the Partnership at Drugfree.org, shows 1-in-6- ids who start using marijuana before the age of 15 will become an addict.

Those who start using before the age of 18 have a 1-in-11 chance of becoming addicted.

Jonathan Futch, Chief Hearing Officer at Cincinnati Public Schools, tries to make sure that doesn’t happen, but he admits it can be a struggle.

“Some families lack role models, especially black males,” Futch said. “When they talk about school safety, the more and more we talk about mental health problems and children making bad choices, we don’t want them to think those choices are something they can just wash away.”

There’s hope in the Buckeye State though, according to officials with the Partnership at Drugfree.org , like Associate Director Tony Coder.

“You are the first state that I know that is actually taking this, looking at this and taking (drug use) head-on,” Coder said. “Ohio is leading the nation."

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