February is Marijuana Awareness Month. While stoking awareness about weed may seem cut-and-dry, the observance has ignited a (smoky) cloud of confusion.
The National Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) first designated Marijuana Awareness Month in 1998 following the Clinton Administration’s $350 million dollar investment in anti-drug campaigns. A branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, the CSAP tries to foster “supportive work and school environments, drug- and crime-free neighborhoods, and positive connections with friends and family,” according to its mission statement.
Over the years, some have transformed the event into a month-long 4/20 festivity. “Celebrate this holiday observance regally,” author and humorist Cindy Beck advises on her blog. “Bring out the chips and salsa, and invite all your college friends from the sixties and seventies—the two or three that are still left after smoking so much of that Mary Jane. Just remember that no party would be complete without a batch of brownies.” In 1998, Councilmember Pat Vereen-Dixon (D-1st Ward) of Ann Arbor, Michigan added to the confusion when she told The Michigan Daily that “it’s an awareness month; we are neither supporting nor condemning.”
In Westchester, the Student Services Assistance Corporation spreads a very different message. Following the release of a 2009 University of Michigan study, which found that over the last two years national and state marijuana use among 8th, 10th, and 12th grade teens has increased, the SSA has worked especially hard to make this year’s Marijuana Awareness Month count. “We’re really concerned that kids using marijuana are not developing the social and emotional coping skills they need to handle stress and relationships,” said Ellen Morehouse, executive director of the SSA. “If you don’t learn these skills at 16 or 18, it’s pretty hard to start learning them at 25.”
The organization sponsors school activities that try to convey the negative consequences of marijuana use and reverse “softening attitudes” (the growing feeling among teens that lighting up isn’t that harmful).
Whether Westchester lights it up or puts it out remains, of course, largely up to you. And that’s the blunt truth.