ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - More teens in Roanoke County are using pot than cigarettes. Roanoke County says they know they have an issue with drugs in schools and that is why they've started prevention messages and the consequences of drug use.
"I see drug deals in the hallway, in the parking lot," said Karyn Heisig, William Byrd High School junior.
"I know that drug use at our school is a very broad," said Taylor Powell, a Cave Spring High School junior.
"It's really common to see drug deals in the hallway. We're going through construction right now so people actually will do marijuana on campus and not necessarily get caught," said Emily McClung, a Glenvar High School sophomore.
Three students from three different high schools but they carried the same message to middle school students during the first ever BOLT conference about staying away from drugs and making positive choices. They say getting to kids early is important as teens are getting mixed messages about marijuana.
"When government supports medical marijuana and recreational marijuana use it completely sends a mixed message because they're supporting that it's not unhealthy. If they're not allowing it they obviously don't think it's that unhealthy," said Powell.
"We're telling our teenagers 'the stuff is bad for you, don't do the stuff' and then a couple states away it's being legalized," said Heisig.
Teens are increasingly changing their minds about pot. The Prevention Council of Roanoke County surveyed about 3,400 high school students. One in five students said they used marijuana in the last 30 days and maybe more surprising the numbers show more teens used pot than cigarettes.
But the Prevention Council's Executive Director Nancy Hans says the more alarm numbers show the negative perception of pot is dropping. In 2004 nearly 80% of high school students thought the risk of harm from regular marijuana use was great or moderate. Now ten years later it's dropped to 60-percent.
"When I see that go down amongst our youth we get very concerned that usage will go up. It is a very complicated issue and we know that what is happening nationally is sending some very very mixed messages," said Hans.
With pot legal in neighboring Washington D.C., Colorado and Alaska states like Virginia are watching closely.
"We are concerned about what will be happening in the next year or so," said Hans.
The Prevention Council has been meeting with lawmakers, leaders in other states and prevention groups. The concern is teens are still developing and any substance use early on can lead to problems down the road or using harder drugs like meth or heroin. Hans says it's not a given that it becomes legal here.
"We as adults need to have as much information as we can about this topic, about the substance to know that it is far different than it was in the 60s, 70s, 80s so that we can have these honest conversation with our community and with our youth to prevent this from happening," said Hans.
During our frank conversation with the students middle school parent Carrie Pratt was listening in.
"I feel sick to my stomach a little bit. I knew it was bad. I knew that drug use was bad in the high schools in the valley but to hear the students say that they see drugs, drugs deals in the hallways and they see people on campus using drugs it's scary. It's very scary as a parent," said Pratt, who has children in 4th grade and 8th grade. She has conversations with her kids about what's happening and why they shouldn't see mixed messages. "I think it just sets kids up for failure. I think that kids can use that as an excuse for anything, they can say look it's illegal. it's legal in other states, it may be illegal in Virginia so it's okay I had to do it," said Pratt.
As for the students some say they've been pressured but never given in.
"I refuse to let other people's lives influence my own. I know what's wrong and I know what's right. I know that drug use is wrong especially at my age," said Heisig.
Seven students have been caught on a Roanoke County school campus with pot or under the influence of pot this year. The punishment is the Student Assistance Program (SAP), which has Saturday school. Roanoke County says they have school resource officers in every school and encourage students to report anything they see on campus to those officers who will handle it appropriately. We're told students know they are not supposed to be in construction zones but they are not locked.
What can you say to your kids? The Prevention County of Roanoke County has the following tips:
It's safer than alcohol or tobacco.
That's a pretty low bar for an argument. That some dangerous things are legal doesn't mean that we should make other dangerous things legal. We know too much for me to think that safer than alcohol is safe. We know that marijuana impacts developing brain in undesirable ways. We know that those impacts are more than "feeling high." We know that those impacts can be permanent.
Don't you think it should be legal?
That's a complicated question with more than a yes or no answer. I have a variety thoughts on whether or not people who use marijuana should be in jail, but that doesn't mean I want it more accessible to teenagers, and that's one risk associated with legalization.
For more information visit the
Prevention Council's website