Due to the nature of this article and the stigmas associated with drug use, many of those interviewed have chosen to remain anonymous.
On a fair-weathered Friday afternoon, one is rarely able to walk across the Tribeca Bridge without passing the wall or the alcove and catching a whiff of the distinct smell of marijuana smoke.
This phenomenon is widely known, and Stuyvesant has developed an association in the minds of some concerned parents with drug use. In 2004, the New York Post published an investigative report on drug dealing at Stuyvesant, and to this day, review-oriented websites such as insiderpages.com are flooded with questions and complaints about the school’s drug problem.
According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, marijuana is the most common illicit drug used among the general populace and among people aged 12 to 17, with usage at 6.9 and 7.4 percent, respectively. However, according to some students, the problem at Stuyvesant is not as widespread or as intense as the media makes it out to be.
“I’ve attended open houses and been hounded by parents about drugs here,” senior and Big Sib James Kogan said. “Nobody hounds you to sell you drugs or make you smoke pot. That’s ridiculous.”
Though the Stuyvesant drug culture may be exaggerated, it is by no means non-existent. It often affects academic and social situations, even if it does not define them, according to one student. “Occasionally, there are people who would rather not be friends with me because they’re uncomfortable with it,” she said. “But I have a lot of friends who don’t smoke, and I like to think they don’t think I’m a bad person.”
However, this student did not dispute that marijuana use is common, and stressed that it is easy to acquire. “Right now, if you gave me 20 bucks and three minutes I could get some drugs,” she said.
Other students agree that the social stigmas associated with marijuana use depend on the level of involvement of the user in question. A former occasional user said that she was “never a big enough user for it to become a problem with relationships or friendships, but I have seen it cause problems for other people.”
Academically, marijuana use would seem to be inhibitive: the National Institute on Drug Abuse links marijuana use to “adverse impact[s] on learning and concentration [that] can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off,” according to the organization’s website. However, some students feel that the mind-altering properties of the drug actually heighten interest in cultural and even academic pursuits.
“Pot opens my mind to different perspectives,” one student said. “I more deeply enjoy music and literature and cinema and food [when under the influence.]” The student confessed to coming to school “high” on occasion, but said that it “doesn’t distract me. Instead it enhances my diligence in schoolwork.”
Other students expressed less beneficial effects on school performance. One student who reported arriving to school under the influence about twice a week said that it “takes attention away from what I should be doing.” According to the student, there are two main stages of intoxication that interfere in different ways with schoolwork: the climax of intoxication and the comedown period.
Advertisements, public service announcements, lessons, and lectures often cite peer pressure as the cause of teen drug use, but students disagree on how much pressure actually exists. One student began using in seventh grade, when a friend offered her a hit of marijuana, but said that she had wanted to try it before because it seemed fun to her and that she would have tried anyway. “No one has ever told me they felt pressured,” she said.
However, other students report that pressure to use is present, but in more subtle form than public service announcements warning of the dangers of drug use depict. Another anonymous student avoided drug use until the start of sophomore year, when a friend offered him marijuana and told him that it was worth trying. Yet before this event, he was aware of the pressure around him to partake.
“I realized that I was ostracizing myself, locking myself into the social role of ‘the lookout,’” he said. “I was stuck watching while my friends got high, and it was awkward to have to be the responsible one.”
Two years later, this student considers himself to be dependant on the drug. He once tried to quit during the summer between his sophomore and junior years because smoking was adversely affecting his lung health, but found himself returning to the drug after a few months.
“People say you don’t get addicted to it,” he said, “but it is addictive psychologically.” The student said that he acknowledges the negative effects of marijuana, having experienced them first-hand, but that he has “no real urge to stop” at the moment.
The New York City Department of Education lists illegal possession of controlled substances as a Level 4 offence, invoking punishments ranging from a parent conference to expulsion for students age 17 and over. But many students report that school punishments tend toward the lighter end of the spectrum.
“Punishment is pretty fair,” one student said. “People only get caught when they’re being stupid, like smoking in school. Usually the administration just yells at them or calls their parents, but if it’s intense, they might get a suspension.”
Looking back on the two times he was caught with marijuana, one anonymous student acknowledged the lightness of the consequences. The first time he was caught was during summer school, and there were “no real repercussions,” he said. Later, however, he narrowly avoided being caught with marijuana in his bag.
“It smelled [like marijuana] pretty strongly, and [a member of the administration] pulled me over to search it. But they never told me if there was a problem.”
Punishments inflicted outside of school, however, can be more severe. According to the New York State Penal Code 221.05, unlawful possession of marijuana is a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense and $200 for subsequent offences; according to Penal Code 221.10, possessing marijuana in public view or smoking marijuana in a public location is a Class B misdemeanor carrying a prison sentence of up to three months. However, this sentence can be avoided through taking the one “free pass” that low-level marijuana offenders are afforded: if one is caught with marijuana but is not caught for another year, the transgression is wiped from that person’s record.
An offense committed in school that would otherwise lead to legal ramifications, if reported, is treated no differently than it would have been outside the school. On Friday, October 12, a student was found smoking marijuana in a school bathroom and was later taken into custody. According to Penal Code 240, city schools are defined as public places, moving any possession offense within a school into the category of Criminal Possession in the Fifth Degree, which is defined as the knowing, unlawful possession of marijuana in a public place, or in excess of 25 grams. The student declined to comment.
Punishment of drug offenses is notoriously inconsistent, but for users of the drug, the risk of discovery is nearly constant. While drug use is often treated lightly within the school, this event serves as a reminder that the ramifications of drug use can be severe. In the eyes of the law, it is still very much a crime.