Many times the perception of Chelsea teens is radically worse than the true reality, and nothing proves that point better than a recent survey on marijuana usage among Chelsea High School (CHS) students – a survey that revealed most teens are not smoking pot.
With that information in hand, Amy Harris and her team at Chelsea ASAP (Chelsea Mobilizing for Change) have launched a campaign to fight back against the perception of marijuana usage and against the confusing messages that have come about by new laws regarding the drug.
Harris and coordinators Stephanie Rodriguez and Emanuel Burgos have put together a public information campaign that they plan to launch on Sept. 26 – hopefully blanketing the city with their message about not using “weed.”
“With the decriminalization of marijuana a few years ago and now with medical marijuana, there has been a trend among young people that marijuana has the perception of a low-risk drug,” said Harris. “National statistics show that there is a direct correlation between the perception of low risk and increased usage. Nationally, use has gone way up.”
And that’s exactly what they hope to attack in Chelsea.
Astoundingly, a recent survey of 300 CHS students in grades 9-12 done in collaboration with the schools showed that 64 percent of the young people had not used marijuana in the last 30 days.
Many have proposed that number would be much smaller, as the perception of urban youths in Chelsea is that most are using weed. In fact, Harris said they are not – at least according to the survey.
The down side of that news is that among those 300 CHS students, the perception was the same in the school as outside the school. Students surveyed reported that they believed some 78 percent of students were using marijuana regularly – showing that the perception versus the reality are about 40 percentage points off.
That troubling news was combined with the fact that 56 percent of young people surveyed believed that marijuana posed only a slight risk or no risk at all to their health.
“That’s the perfect storm between the misperception of those using and the fact that more than half believe marijuana poses slight to no risk,” said Harris. “That’s building up a very risky situation for pro-use. It ends up building social norms that promote usage where it actually isn’t happening.”
Rodriguez said they are looking to push the facts out in a campaign that will trumpet the news that Chelsea young people are not using marijuana in large numbers – that those using regularly are actually only a small percentage.
Additionally, they have compiled some facts about the health effects of marijuana on young people. Using a poster created by youth members of ASAP, they plan to blanket areas of the City like City Hall, the schools, doctors offices and other public places with these facts about weed.
One of the facts on the sheet is that one marijuana blunt is equal to the tar in 20 tobacco cigarettes – a major reason why smokers of weed often have lung and bronchial difficulties at a young age.
Many of the youth members at ASAP have also made video public service announcement commercials that will be played before the announcements at CHS every morning.
The PSAs will include personal testimony about young people making the right decision and being “part of the 64%” that does not use marijuana.
Finally, Burgos added that they have incorporated business sponsor John Falzone of John’s Pizza to put their campaign sticker on every box of pizza that goes out of his store.
All of it, Harris said, is a coordinated attack on pot.
“The national data says if you attack the perception of risk and the misperceptions of usage – the use will go down,” she said.
In June, the group will take another survey and review whether or not the campaign has been statistically successful in swaying the perception of young people at CHS.