LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
California entered the brave, new world of marijuana legalization in 2018. And it's impossible to ignore. There are new dispensaries opening, even billboards advertising weed delivery apps. So what do you tell the kids? And what are they saying in schools? Here's KQED's Carrie Feibel.
CARRIE FEIBEL, BYLINE: I'm from Generation X. So when I hear the words drug education, I hear Nancy Reagan.
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NANCY REAGAN: When it comes to drugs and alcohol, just say no.
FEIBEL: Those three words summed up years of messaging. And then there was this ad.
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JOHN ROSELIUS: This is your brain on drugs.
FEIBEL: That one with the fried egg has been spoofed endlessly. And it sort of was a joke, says Danielle Ramo of UC, San Francisco.
DANIELLE RAMO: Those scare-tactic based programs have tended to quite clearly not work.
FEIBEL: The research has shown that kids who went through those Just-Say-No-type programs did drugs just as much as kids who didn't. But these days, drug education focuses on facts instead of fear. I got a glimpse of that at Marin Primary and Middle School in a suburb north of San Francisco.
ASHLEY BRADY: What's today's topic?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Marijuana.
BRADY: Marijuana - yeah. Marijuana - exactly.
FEIBEL: That's Ashley Brady warming up the crowd of eighth-graders. She starts off by dismissing the old approach.
BRADY: So that campaign was really all about just say no, just say no, OK? But I'm not here to tell you what to do today. I'm here to give you the most up-to-date information possible so that you can make your own healthy, informed decisions.
FEIBEL: Brady jumps in right away, discussing how marijuana affects brain receptors, why it's so easy to overdose on edibles and how manufacturers are churning out entirely new types of pot called concentrates.
BRADY: And on the right are the concentrates, the shatters, the waxes, the dabs, OK? They call it a dab because one tiny, little nailhead - I mean, I'm talking, like, the end of my pinky - one, tiny, little nailhead is the same as, like, three joints hitting the system all at once. OK? So it's a lot stronger than it used to be.
FEIBEL: And yes, it can be addictive. But Brady never once says don't do it. It's more like she's saying, at the very least, don't do it now and not just because pot is still illegal if you're under 21. It's because your brain, the teenage brain, is still growing. So the longer you delay, the less damage you will inflict. Afterwards, 13-year-old Devon Soofer says it was a pleasant surprise not to get a lecture.
DEVON SOOFER: This one was actually telling you the long-term effects and what it can actually do to you. So it actually make you feel like, wow. This is actually really bad - and not just being forced not to do it.
FEIBEL: This curriculum is called Being Adept. And it was started by a Bay Area psychotherapist named Jennifer Grellman. A key part, says Grellman, are the parent nights when she gives advice on how to talk about drugs and alcohol with kids. She says to remember that the kids are always watching you.
JENNIFER GRELLMAN: This idea of coming home from the office and saying, I've got to have my glass of wine, you know, women and men. How many people have done that? It's, like, if you want have your glass of wine, have your glass of wine. But don't announce it that you're just on wit's end, and you have to have this drink. That's crazy.
FEIBEL: I keep comparing all this to Just Say No. It was simplistic and condescending. But it did have a concise slogan. Grellman says the new drug ed can also be summed up in three words.
GRELLMAN: Delay, delay, delay - because the longer they wait, their brain's developed, and they're not going to have these deleterious effects.
FEIBEL: That's it. Delay, delay, delay. The longer the better, but every year counts because the research shows that the earlier you use drugs, the more likely you are to have substance abuse problems as an adult.
GRELLMAN: And the way to handle that with your kids is to say, you know, you don't have to use this now. Maybe you want to use it someday but not today - not now. It will always be there. Just tell them to wait.
FEIBEL: For NPR News, I'm Carrie Feibel in San Francisco.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KQED and Kaiser Health News.
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