The Problem of the Black Lotus.

This is not just a post about a banned Magic: The Gathering Card...

This is not just a post about a banned Magic: The Gathering Card…

Although we will discuss that card, briefly, now.

The “Black Lotus” card is extremely rare, and only printed early in the game’s history. Former Pro player and Magic writer Zvi Mowshowitz has declared Black Lotus as the best card of its type of all time, claiming “every deck in the history of the game is better with a Black Lotus in it.” A strong statement, to be sure. It has since been banned from all official tournament styles save for “Vintage,” but even there, it is limited to one copy per deck, compared to the normal allowance of four.

The illustration on Black Lotus was painted by Christopher Rush, who was at the time a Wizards of the Coast employee. The Black Lotus illustration is a depiction of a black lotus flower over a foliage backdrop. A Black Lotus card is usually considered to be the most valuable non-promotional Magic card ever printed. A “Mint Condition” Alpha version of the Black Lotus was auctioned for more than $27,000 in November 2013. Those are American Dollars, people.

In the film “Conan the Barbarian” featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title role, the Black Lotus is an opiate used by Stygian Sorcerers. This is much more on point with the context of the art above, although I did reference the Magic Card art for Panel Two. As an additional note about the art, the Watchman in Panel One is intentionally sort of ape like or caveman like…mostly to suggest a sort of befuddlement.

At California High Schools, there is a trade in cannabis and related products that can only be called “brisk.” My classroom is at the fringe of campus, and thus often one can smell the distinctive odor of the various products of the hemp plant being smoked. More than one of my students has been found using, or holding marijuana or brownies with the product baked in. A few have suffered some serious legal consequences for their trouble. The fascinating part, to me, is the amazing level of openness students will have on the subject, and whether or not they have recently used it.

It is, after all, still a Federally Controlled Substance, and the number of minors bearing a prescription for that substance is irrationally small. Still, students will be surprisingly frank on the matter, and often partake before or during school. My old school had a similar problem, but it was far more confined to a small group of students.

In high school, the general awareness and use is more pervasive. The students have an almost “matter of fact” mentality about the availability of the various forms of marijuana, and take for granted that it is a thing that might be on hand at any time. That, more than anything, is the part that is taking the most adjustment for me…the sort of bland acceptance of marijuana as a normal part of the school experience. I certainly have never seen anything of the sort, even in college.

National statistics support this. Marijuana use by youth, as a statistic, remained stable in 2014, even though the percentage of youth perceiving the drug as harmful went down. Past-month use of marijuana remained steady among 8th graders at 6.5 percent, among 10th graders at 16.6 percent, and among 12th graders at 21.2 percent. Close to 6 percent of 12th graders reported DAILY use of marijuana (similar to 2013), and 81 percent of them said the drug is easy to get. Among 8th graders, there was a drop in perceived availability in 2014, with 36.9 percent saying it is easy to get marijuana, compared to 39.1 percent in 2013. Those stats are courtesy of the University of Michigan, by the way.

From the same study, there are some interesting other statistics. Although marijuana use among youth in Middle School and High School has remained relatively stable over the past few years, there continues to be a shifting of teens’ attitudes about its perceived risks. The majority of high school seniors do not think occasional marijuana smoking is harmful, with only 36.1 percent saying that regular use puts the user at great risk, compared to 39.5 percent in 2013 and 52.4 percent in 2009. However, 56.7 percent of seniors say they DISAPPROVE of adults who smoke it occasionally, and 73.4 percent say they disapprove of adults smoking marijuana regularly.

Wow. That’s unexpected, especially given the number of adults who awkwardly make jokes about marijuana in a lame attempt to be “cool.” The numbers suggest that young people find that anything BUT cool.

It seems though that the war on tobacco is almost won, though. Marijuana use continues to exceed cigarette use in all three grade levels. In 2014, 21.2 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana in the past 30 days, whereas only 13.6 percent had smoked cigarettes. Considering that tobacco is far more legal than marijuana, the nearly double usage rate is mind boggling, and speaks well to the overall awareness of the harmful effects of nicotine, at least. Health class may in fact have a modest “win” in that column.

Still…those numbers really support the basic thesis that I’m mentioning here. In a large study, one out of five high school seniors used marijuana at least once in a given month. That supports the perception that the use of what is still a Federally Controlled Substance, on school campuses, is profoundly widespread. Anecdotally, I could speak to this over the past week through various observations, but the math doesn’t lie.

The point of intersection with me caring is simple enough. I’m a teacher, and this is a school setting. Research has shown that someone who smokes marijuana on a daily basis may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level for most or even all of the time. Considerable evidence suggests that students who smoke marijuana on a regular basis have poorer educational outcomes than their nonsmoking peers. For example, a review of 48 relevant studies found marijuana use to be associated with reduced educational attainment (meaning substantially reduced chances of graduating). A recent analysis using data from three large studies in Australia and New Zealand found that adolescents who used marijuana regularly were significantly less likely than their non-using peers to finish high school or obtain a degree.

In short…the regular and pervasive use of the substance is at odds with the intellectual improvement that is the whole point of school.

However, in a school environment where students wear t-shirts, jewelry, and clothing emblazoned with the logo of the cannabis leaf, I’m not sure that there’s much headway to make. Just as tobacco has its massive negative press push, the legalization movement for marijuana has convinced a generation of young people that it is completely harmless. It’s a popular media topic, whether it’s a conversation about legalization laws or the celebrities who use it…the drug seems to be more popular than ever.

Despite that, there’s one thing most supporters and critics can agree on: Teens shouldn’t be using it.

One of the main points is this statistic, recently published by the Lancet Psychiatry: their reported that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate high school or college than those who never use. Considering LAUSD and California’s low high school graduation rates, it’s possible there could be a relevant correlation here.

There are three basic things that the educational establishment is doing to combat this problem. They are:

1. Drug prevention programs: Programs that focus on strengthening communities and that target risk factors ​that get teens into trouble for all kinds of things, can be effective in preventing abuse of many illegal substances, not just marijuana.

2. Zero tolerance policies: Most schools have a “zero tolerance” policy regarding drug and alcohol offenses, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. ​ They often are not so strictly enforced, though. This Zero Tolerance generally means that if students commit any drug offenses, such as bringing drug paraphernalia on school grounds, they ​receive a predetermined punishment, no matter the circumstances. Punishments tend to be harsh, ranging from suspension to expulsion.

3. School-based marijuana treatment programs: Most programs in high school tend to focus on drug prevention, not early-stage intervention. Considering that about forty percent of secondary students state they have tried marijuana, maybe this isn’t the best plan, and some sort of intervention would be a better play.

So there you have it….the pervasive smell of the burning cannabis leaf on my school’s campus has led me to do some serious digging, to bring real stats to the table. Ultimately, it’s no different from the teacher’s perspective to a student drinking on campus, since our goals are safety and intellectual improvement. As educators, though, the systems are just not in place to clear the campus of the various recreational substances that arrive from day to day.

Certainly, I can do without my colleagues’ somewhat lame humor about wanting access to confiscated brownies. It does not make a room full of teachers suddenly “cool.” In fact, 56.7 percent of high school seniors would agree with me, according to the above cited study, that it’s a little sad.

So much for today’s notes, from the trenches.

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