In the six months since California legalized cannabis, the battle of brands to gain our attention has been fierce. As marijuana-related advertising saturates our local landscape, some of San Francisco’s high school students have made it clear that cannabis has no place in their classrooms.
On June 13, the San Francisco Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution from the city’s Student Advisory Council that affirms San Francisco’s law requiring a 600-foot buffer between dispensaries and school property.
Academy High School senior Chanun Ong was one of the students behind the resolution, co-authored by Board of Education Commissioner Dr. Emily Murase. In discussing what inspired the Student Advisory Council to take the issue on, Ong emphasizes that their efforts were not intended as a condemnation of marijuana, but rather as an educational effort to inform peers and younger students.
“By no means do we disapprove of responsible cannabis usage,” Ong says, “but we wanted to help ensure that students — especially younger students — weren’t exposed to cannabis prematurely.”
According to a San Francisco Unified School Districts press release, the resolution also “strongly discourages the advertisement of cannabis, cannabis products, cannabis businesses, or cannabis services in a 600-foot radius around school grounds.”
While Ong says he hasn’t personally noticed an immense increase in cannabis advertising since recreational sales went into effect in January, he does recall seeing the occasional billboard and small sign.
“It’s definitely a precautionary resolution,” he explains. “We haven’t seen an extreme amount of advertising, but we want to make sure that we can control it quickly if that ever becomes the case.”
Murase notes that the resolution’s importance isn’t only in what it sought to accomplish, but also in the fact that SFUSD students initiated it.
“It’s very important that this was student-generated,” Murase says. “The Student Advisory Council consists of dedicated, hard-working representatives from each of our high schools, and they’re the ones who brought this forward.”
Murase points back to adjustments the Board of Education previously made to SFUSD student drug education following a February incident in which 10 students at James Lick Middle School where hospitalized after ingesting marijuana-infused edibles. Part of the board’s earlier efforts included new training for school social workers and nurses, as well as for students who serve as outreach workers for each high school.
Echoing Ong’s sentiments regarding this new resolution, Murase explains that given the marijuana industry “is in its infancy,” the time is right to “make a bright line on where we stand in terms of targeted advertisements.”
“We’re hoping that they’ll be good neighbors,” she continues. “I know in the past that there have been protests regarding dispensaries near schools and that some of the business owners did cooperate. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt.”
It’s fair to assume the majority of the cannabis industry will likely take no issue with a request to keep marketing away from schools, but history tells us that far more difficult decisions loom on the horizon.
On June 5, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1286, which allows for school nurses to administer non-smokable medical cannabis to students if given parental approval. As research continues to reveal the benefit of cannabis in treating seizures and numerous other medical conditions, it’s only a matter of time before California’s next governor will be asked to consider similar legislation.
For now, Murase’s concern is focused on the recreational appeal of cannabis to underage consumers. In addition to the fact that ingesting cannabis under the age of 21 is illegal, she also notes that there is some evidence to suggest that marijuana may be harmful to the adolescent mind, citing a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association and a 2017 report from Scientific American.
“I think there are some major studies underway right now,” she says, “so it’s not causal at this point, but it’s a concern. We want to give our kids the best shot at success, and not having any negative impacts on their developing brains is one way to help that along.”
One student who has clearly succeeded is Chanun Ong. As he prepares for his freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley this fall, he expresses pride in the legacy that he’s leaving to his successors on the Student Advisory Council and the bond the council was able to form with San Francisco’s Board of Education.
“Our partnership in the future may not have anything to do with cannabis at all,” he says, “but the support from the board has been phenomenal. When we talked to Dr. Murase about this resolution, she was extremely receptive. I want to extend a shout-out to her personally, because she was one of the main proponents for making sure that our schools stay cannabis-free. It was great to work with her.”
Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly.
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