Are Ulster’s teens already too stoned for legal weed?

During the recent push towards marijuana legalization that seems to now have stalled, much was said about societal effects, the benefits of CBD, and needed changes to legislation involving driving under the influence, as well as ways of undoing years of prison sentences predicated by the wars on drugs.

There have also been concerns raised by those who’ve looked closely at data that charts teenage use of marijuana on a state and national level, as well as in Ulster County…where the rates of use appear significantly higher that the rising levels across the country and state.

According to Youth Development Survey results for Ulster County from the 2016-2017 school year, tabulated for the Ulster Prevention Council by Scantron Assessment Development and Psychometrics with a 37 percent participation rate by students in grades 7-12 throughout the county’s public schools, 19 percent of all respondents were current users of marijuana, with a spread of use showing substantial increases as students get older.


Three percent of 7th graders reported having tried marijuana within the last year compared with 39 percent of 12th graders; an overall 18 percent of users reported using marijuana on more than five occasions. 

In a 2014-15 school year assessment of high school drug use and attitudes by the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, data was similar to that found in Ulster County, while the National Institute of Health’s 2017 Monitoring the Future survey found approximately 25 percent of 12th graders had tried pot, with under 15 percent having used marijuana more than five times in the past year.

The national survey went several steps further than the state and local data, noting that annual marijuana prevalence peaked at 51 percent among 12th graders in 1979, following a rise that began during the 1960s, then declined to 22% in 1992 after which there was a resurge and drop, followed a steady rise in use — and perceptions of use — since the 2007-2008 school year (with a notable decline during the 2012-2015 years). The national survey also found that vaping pot showed a significant rise over the past three years.

Of particular interest to those scouring the statistics as fuel for current policy discussions regarding legalization, and the need for further, more intense studies, have been concurrent shifts in regards to teenage attitudes towards marijuana over the past decade.

The older they get…

In the Ulster survey, it was noted that while “over two-thirds of respondents feel that smoking marijuana is wrong or very wrong,” such perception “drops precipitously as students get older.” Of seventh graders, 92 percent feel that smoking marijuana is very wrong or wrong, while only 41 percent of 12th graders feel the same. The same attitudes get reflected when Ulster students are asked whether marijuana places people at risk of harm, with 7th graders agreeing at a 70 percent rate versus 12th graders agreeing that smoking marijuana once or twice a week is a risk to their well-being, at 32 percent.

As a comparison, 84 percent of surveyed students in Ulster County said they have never tried cigarettes, and 85 percent saw smoking tobacco as a risk to one’s health. Twenty-seven percent of all surveyed students reported having drunk alcohol within the past thirty days, although 78 percent of all respondents said they felt it is wrong to drink alcohol regularly, with that perception actually rising, percentage-wise, by grade and age.

On a national level, researchers noted that use of marijuana has expanded as perceptions of its risk have dropped. This trend, it was added, reflected a general sense that pot was easier to access for teenagers, especially as they aged, to a level where 80 to 90 percent of students nationwide said they could score easily. This, the researchers added, correlates with cigarettes becoming harder to access, and thus losing popularity, while the access of alcohol, and slight increases in binge drinking among some teens, has resulted in downward-slipping approval rates for drinking among high schoolers.

Age of initiation for marijuana use in Ulster County, the Prevention Council report noted, was similar to that of cigarettes, with 54 percent reporting initiation between the ages of 12-14 and 39 percent reporting that they began marijuana use after the age of 15. Such data relates to similar experimentation with alcohol, and reflects state and national figures.

“Sixty percent of Ulster County High School seniors report that they have used marijuana. This is 15 points higher than the national average and 18 points above the state rate. Forty percent of them reported that they had used it recently, which is indicative of frequent use. That is 17 points above the national and 14 above the state averages. I can’t find a county worse than us,” noted Onteora School District resident Tom Kadgen, who alerted us to the current data. “Research indicates that Cannabis effects brain development in the young. The earlier one begins using marijuana the more likely it will have negative effects upon their lives. It can result in decreased intelligence, interfere with memory, and reduce one’s ability to reason. There is also the danger of becoming dependant as Cannabis is an addictive substance. There is also mounting evidence that it may cause psychiatric disorders over time…Which begs the question as to why it falls to someone like me, to bring something like this to the public’s attention.”

His arguments reflected a recent controversial New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell that resulted in similar findings and opinions.

Cheryl DePaolo, Director of the Ulster Prevention Council, added recently that while her agency cannot lobby one way or another regarding legislation such as that which could legalize marijuana in New York, “Our focus is on marijuana being harmful to the adolescent brain. Our mission is youth focused.”

She said she’s helped with letter writing campaigns regarding her agency’s findings, as well as those of state and national surveys. She added that she’s been hearing that Tracey Bartels, chair of the Ulster County legislature, is leaning in the direction of concern regarding the ways adult legalization could trickle down to effect “minority users.”

Addressing the youth issue

From a larger legal perspective, Professor of Law Julie Steiner of Western New England University School of Law in Springfield, MA, a specialist in the new marijuana laws, said all the concerns, and statistics being bandied about, are being taken very seriously as various states work out their individual means of pot decriminalization and legalization.

“It is somewhat difficult to predict where New York will end up on these issues; however, there are certain things that we know or can expect the legislature to do in light of the concerns about high school use,” Steiner noted in a recent email. “First, there has been a continual push by policymakers and youth/health advocates to ensure adequate education, screening, early intervention and treatment for users under 21 years of age. Second, I fully expect New York to ensure strict regulatory requirements that prevent licensed retailers from selling to those under 21 years of age. Third, New York is under pressure to earmark some of the marijuana-industry tax revenue to be used for education and treatment programs, including mandatory education programs in schools, public awareness campaigns, and money for screening and early intervention in the event of substance abuse detection. Fourth, buffer zone laws that create distance between retail establishments and high schools (indeed, all k-12 schools) are also a component of the legislative scheme aimed toward lessening the impact on youth. All of these efforts, together, attempt to address the problem of high school use.”

Talk about thorny issues.

There are 4 comments

  1. Steve Rafalsky (aka Steve Levin)

    Drugs in Woodstock, May 2019

    Drugs in Ulster County — and Woodstock in particular (I lived in Woodstock 19 years, and was involved in the drug culture part of that time) — is a deeper subject than many realize. There is a spiritual aspect to the situation, and without appreciating it from this vantage we will never comprehend it, nor effectively address it.

    The class of drugs marijuana is in — psychedelics (mind-expanders) — is termed sorcery or sorcerous potions. Along with grass is included LSD, mescaline, hashish (a derivative of marijuana), psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, peyote and others with like properties. What sorcery entails — and here we enter the spiritual dimension — is entering the demonic realm by removing the barrier between that and the realm of human collective consciousness, both en masse and individual.

    I realize that to some this may sound like science fiction or fantasy, while others may well discern what I am talking of is real, whatever spiritual path — or no path — they may be on. This is one case where reality is far stranger — and more fraught with peril — than any fiction.

    Although having explored many spiritual paths, the one I speak from is the Judeo-Christian, which alone is able to clearly discern and effectively counter the demonic.

    What we have done—and I include myself, along with the “Woodstock Nation” of yore—is open the dimensional gateway between the human and demonic realms through the sorceries we participated in. Our teachers back then — such as Tim Leary and Richard Alpert aka Baba Ram Dass, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and many of the musicians and poets/writers of that era — told us that getting high was sacred, and the way to illumined consciousness, and we believed them. Not only in the U.S. but also in the U.K. did this recreational drug use (and I refer *only* to the psychedelics here) spread like wildfire, and we then exported it into all the world, wanting to share the wonderful new consciousness we had found.

    But the Yellow Submarine (see the Beatles’ movie by that name lauding the drug scene and its “spiritual blessing” for humankind) — which exemplified our hopes and dreams — it sank, as it became obvious we were part of a mass delusion. Writing about this in a book (, free digital copies here: I said of the protagonist,

    “Although he didn’t see it at the time, nor for many decades following, more was going on in the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s than anyone imagined—occult happenings that would impact ‘the spirit of the age’ come the 21st century like pounding blows on the body and soul of humankind.”

    What we have done — and Woodstock appears to be the symbolic epicenter of this phenomenon — is leave a ripped open and tattered interdimensional gateway in the psychic terrain, from which hordes of the pit of Hell entered our realm. Psychically speaking, beloved Woodstock has suffered a terrible devastation, and it is our youths that have proven most vulnerable to it. The reason some have succumbed to heroin is because its sedating power offers some comfort in the spiritual wasteland they inherited.

    And one may also see the affect of this infernal invasion in our culture — the madness, chaos, immorality, wickedness, vulgarity, and violence — and not only this culture, but the entire world is reeling from the impact of the alien violence the hordes are fomenting in world leaders and players on the world stage, and the populations under their sway.

    Not politics, not science, but the vision and power of Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to address this disaster. Here is a booklet on this topic from a Christian point of view:

    OUR SORCEROUS AGE – Prelude To Armageddon

    1. Ernie Marrs

      I don’t care if it rains or freezes
      Long as I have my plastic Jesus,
      Riding on the dashboard of my car.

      I don’t care if the winds get scary
      Long as I have my plastic Mary
      Riding on the dashboard of my car.

      Plastic Jesus,
      Plastic Jesus.
      Riding on the dashboard of my car
      Through all trials and tribulations,
      We will travel every nation,
      With my plastic Jesus I’ll go far.

  2. alexandra Zissu

    I’m so glad you are covering youth issues. Don’t you think our community also needs to read an article about the 10 incidences reported to families by the NPCSD administration that have occurred in 3 out of our 4 schools in the past 4 months? Wondering why the NP Times is not covering this. Incidences include swastikas, children calling each other the n-word, cyberbullying. Please consider pitching this to your editor. Thank you.

  3. Marie

    This isn’t a marijuana issue it’s a parenting issue. If you asked those same kids if they drank the answer would be a resounding yes. If it was legal it would still be illegal for these kids to smoke it because they are under 21. Parents aren’t paying attention or just don’t care. Please don’t demonize a plant that helps so many people just to fit your agenda.

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