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Argus-Courier Editorial

Petaluma schools bring in the dogs

Published: Monday, April 8, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.

After the number of student suspensions and expulsions for drug related offenses at local secondary schools skyrocketed last year, Petaluma City Schools District board members agreed to ask police to bring drug sniffing dogs on campuses in an effort to curtail students' use and possession of marijuana and other illegal drugs.

This month, following a recent spate of school drug-related incidents, the district will begin conducting demonstrations for students in which police dogs such as “Rico” and “Jimmy” will show how adept they are at locating marijuana in lockers, parked cars and other locations on campus. Random on-campus drug searches will soon follow.

We're sorry it has come to this, but with the problem clearly out of control, it appears the district's approach is a sensible one.

When Petaluma Schools Director of Student Services Dave Rose began charting the trend of suspensions and expulsions related to illegal substances two years ago, the results showed a sharp and alarming increase in possession and use of marijuana. Since then, a few hundred students have either been suspended or expelled.

Particularly disturbing has been the increase in marijuana use by junior high school students. According to school records, the number of suspensions due to marijuana possession in Petaluma's junior high schools has more than doubled over the last few years.

Clearly, a lot more Petaluma school students are getting stoned these days, and at earlier ages. In addition to the well-documented negative health effects of teen marijuana use, the excessive amount of time and money needed to deal with the problem is diverted away from educating kids at a time when schools have fewer resources.

School officials say that in addition to the easy availability of cannabis locally, Petaluma kids' increased use of marijuana has come about because so many adults here believe its use is harmless. Too often the message to kids is that it's okay to smoke pot, so they do.

This is despite extensive research and data indicating that marijuana use has a negative impact on the developing teenage brain, and is associated with a host of other moderately serious physical and psychological impairments ranging from bronchitis to anxiety, depression and memory loss.

School officials know this and want to do whatever possible to ensure students abide by the law and stay healthy. Their decision to bring in the police dogs is not aimed at catching offenders, but rather at deterring students from bringing drugs onto campus in the first place. If it's made clear to students that they will face a very high risk of being suspended or expelled should they choose to bring drugs to school, it's likely to have the desired effect of lessening drug use on campus.

We think it's a policy that makes sense and applaud school district officials for implementing it.

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