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Parents, students invited to seminar on marijuana tonight
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‘Marijuana and Synthetic Weed: What You Should Know to Protect Our Youth’

What: Brought to the community by the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County, this program will take a comprehensive look at the legal issues behind marijuana use, signs and symptoms of drug abuse and a real-life look at addiction.
When: 6 tonight
Where: Hall County Schools office, 711 Green St. NW, Gainesville 
More info: Contact JP Banks at 770-534-1080, ext. 277, or

Marijuana, both natural and synthetic, is the topic of tonight’s presentation of the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County.

The presentation begins at 6 p.m., at the Hall County school system’s main office on Green Street.

There will be four speakers, and the presentation will include a look at the legal implications as well as the impact of marijuana addiction on a local family.

Coalition Director JP Banks said there was a similar seminar on prescription drug abuse in the spring.

The ultimate goal is to encourage open discussions between parents and their children about drug and alcohol use.

“I think middle and high school students would be the primary target for these presentations,” Banks said. “Particularly since national statistics indicate that it’s usually the 12.5, 13 years of age when students start experimenting with drugs and alcohol.”

Banks said that according to the 2010 Georgia Student Health Survey, “only 8 percent of ninth-graders, 15.5 percent of 10th-graders, 11.5 percent of 11th-graders and 13 percent of 12th-grade students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days” in Hall County.

The numbers have remained fairly consistent over the years, Banks said.

Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard will be on hand tonight to talk about the legal implications of being caught with marijuana or synthetic marijuana.

Licensed professional counselor and master addiction counselor Patti Carter Shipp and substance abuse counselor Kristi Satterfield will discuss signs and symptoms of drug abuse.

Shipp said she would primarily be addressing parents.

“I want folks to know not everyone is doing it,” she said, explaining it’s important to be aware of the signs of drug use, including excess usage of saline eye drops, a decreased interest in hobbies and a decline in grades.

The presentation will be about both the marijuana plant, and the synthetic version of the drug. Nelly Miles from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will explain what the synthetic version is, and how to identify it.

“There’s really a trend toward synthetic drugs in general,” Miles said. “And so I’ll focus more on synthetic marijuana and the dangers. I will definitely go into the legal status but I want to make sure the public is aware of how to identify and where to find it.”

“For a while, they could sell (synthetic marijuana) legally because of how they developed the compounds in it,” Banks said. “The law would have to change to keep up.”

Marijuana has been in the news as CNN’s Sanjay Gupta recently announced he has changed his opinion on the illegal substance. He had originally said he was against changing laws to make the drug available for medicinal purposes.

Earlier in August, he apologized for his comments, saying he did not consider research into the topic.

“We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that,” Gupta wrote for CNN.

Gupta went on to write that he did not approve of marijuana for recreational use, and if his children wanted to try the drug, he would encourage them to wait until their mid-20s, when their brains are fully developed. On that, Shipp agreed.

“Part of what I read validated, of course, the idea that teen use of marijuana is not good, because the frontal lobe has not been developed yet,” Shipp said.

Also earlier this month, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made the state the 20th in the nation to allow the medical use of marijuana. The new law in that state will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

“It’s a very fine line between the medical benefits and the addiction potential,” Miles said.

Shipp said the issue of medical marijuana has been prevalent in other states, but that it’s directed toward adults with medical issues, not for recreational use among teenagers.

“It’s not up for debate about the benefits, because in the state of Georgia, it’s illegal. Period,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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