That finding, published in the American Journal of Public Health, startled researchers. They found that students attending schools with suspension policies for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely than their peers at schools without such policies to use marijuana in the next year. That was found to be true for the entire student body, not just those who were suspended.
“That was surprising to us,” said study coauthor Richard Catalano, professor of social work and cofounder of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work. “It means that suspensions are certainly not having a deterrent effect,” he said. “It’s just the opposite.”
The study, conducted by researchers at UW and in Australia, compared drug policies at schools in Washington state and Victoria, Australia, to determine how they impacted student marijuana use. It found that students attending schools with policies of referring cannabis users to a school counselor were 50 percent less likely to use pot.
Sending teens to educational programs, referring them to a school counselor or nurse, expelling them or calling the police had no significant impact on marijuana use.
The data was collected in 2002 and 2003 as part of a longitudinal study looking at behaviors among young people in Washington and Victoria, which are similar in size and demographics, but very different in their approaches to drug use among students.
The findings are obviously timely, as school systems and authorities in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and other states are grappling with how to educate students about marijuana and respond effectively when they’re caught using it.
“Schools may reduce student marijuana use by delivering abstinence messages, enforcing nonuse policies, and adopting a remedial approach to policy violations rather than use of suspensions,” the researchers concluded.