PARK SLOPE — When the weather is warm, the odor of marijuana coming from people smoking pot on the sidewalk drifts into Saint Saviour High School in Park Slope through open windows, Principal Carolann Timpone said.
“On a really nice, beautiful afternoon, as we get ready for dismissal of our last period when I can open up the windows in the front of our school, I can smell it very clearly,” she said.
Now that recreational marijuana is legal in New York state, Timpone might have to keep the windows of her school closed.
It’s not just a problem in Park Slope. Walk down any New York street, and the smell of pot is omnipresent.
In 2021, the sale and possession of recreational marijuana became legal in the Empire State. The state started issuing licenses to vendors in 2022. So far, only a handful of vendors have been awarded licenses.
Still, that’s not stopping unlicensed vendors from setting up shop on street corners and in storefronts all over the city to sell weed, according to Mayor Eric Adams, who estimated that there might be as many as 1,500 illegal shops.
“Children are getting high on their way to school,’’ he told reporters at City Hall.
Concerned educators said they also worry that even though the legal age to buy pot is 21, teenagers and adolescents will be able to get their hands on cannabis easily enough.
“It becomes a very big problem and one that should scare all the parents and teachers and people of goodwill in general,” said Deacon Kevin McCormack, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn. “When this becomes ubiquitous and ready for everywhere, anywhere, it becomes far more difficult for us to control, and in the long run, we know that our kids are going to be hurt.”
One way to combat marijuana is through education, according to Deacon McCormack. Marijuana and alcohol are included in the drug abuse prevention curriculum in most schools in the diocese, he explained.
“We want to make sure our kids understand that if they do any kind of abuse of drugs, it’s going to have a devastating effect on their lives,” he said.
St. Saviour, an all-girls school, introduced a wellness curriculum during the pandemic that includes discussions about marijuana.
“I feel the curriculum adds a positive element to the discussion. We do bring it up in health class,” Timpone said. “People sometimes think marijuana is an outlet. Our wellness program is a big outlet for the girls.”
“The problem with marijuana is what may be acceptable for an adult doesn’t make sense for a teenager and certainly not for a pre-teen,” McCormack added. “We’re a society set up to think kids are little adults, and they’re not.”
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the new pot law a disaster due to lax enforcement of illegal vendors that has resulted in a proliferation of readily acquired marijuana. It is as easy to buy an ounce of pot as it is to buy a pizza, he charged in a column he wrote for Bloomberg.com.
Much of the concern centers on the health effects of marijuana on teens and adolescents.
According to a 2016 study commissioned by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, frequent marijuana use by adolescents and young adults is associated with impaired learning, memory issues, and lower reading and math comprehension — even if it has been 28 days since it has been used.
What’s more, the study found that frequent marijuana use by adolescents is strongly associated with failure to graduate from high school.
Another study, by the University of California-Irvine, revealed teenage girls who regularly smoke pot might be in danger of permanently damaging their ability to have children. Prolonged exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical found in marijuana, reduced the number of healthy ovarian follicles by 50% in female adolescent mice.
It’s not just adults voicing concerns. Teenagers are also worried about the amount of marijuana out there.
“I feel like you’re kind of surrounded by it on the street,” said Rosemary McCollum, a junior at St. Saviour High School. Many people her age smoke pot, she said. “I think that’s pretty much a given,” she added.
“My main concern is the safety of people. You’re really just putting people in harm’s way when you’re driving and smoking at the same time,” Rosemary said, adding that she worries that pot slows a person’s reflexes when they’re behind the wheel.
Another concern: buying pot from an unlicensed vendor or from a dealer on the street could be dangerous. “The stuff they’re putting out, what’s in it? It could be laced with something. People don’t know what’s going on because they think that they’re buying from somewhere trustworthy. But they’re not,” Rosemary said.
Timpone brought up the possibility that marijuana could be laced with fentanyl. “It’s highly addictive, and it’s so dangerous,” she said. “And it’s coming here in droves.”
Giovanna Milisic, another junior at St. Saviour, is troubled by the results of health studies focusing on marijuana.
“My biggest concern is the way that, especially for children, it is changing their brain development. We already have cellphones distracting our attention span,” she said.
Both Rosemary and Giovanna said they favored decriminalizing marijuana but didn’t think legalizing it was a wise move.
Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio, who spoke out against the legalization of marijuana as the issue was debated in the New York State Legislature, dealt with the subject in “Put Out Into the Deep,” the column he wrote for The Tablet during his time as bishop of Brooklyn.
He called pot a gateway drug when he served as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Newark from 1996 to 1999.
“When I was in Newark and headed Catholic Charities, I was responsible for the mental health division, and there we had a lot of drug rehabilitation work,” he explained. “And all the time, we always had to ask, ‘Well, how did you start?’ The answer was always marijuana. This was many years ago, and it’s nothing different now.”