It's noon on a beautiful Saturday, and all around San Diego, high-school kids are just rolling out of bed, ready to hit the beach or the mall. That is, unless they're among the small group of teens so committed to bettering their community that they're spending the day with county Supervisor Bill Horn in a solemn exposé. Waiting nervously with numbered specimens on posterboard, these youth have come together with Horn to blow the whistle on what is ostensibly a major problem facing American public schools today: T-shirts with stupid weed jokes on them.
The event, aimed at educating parents and teachers about the growing availability and prevalence of clothing that contains hidden pro-drug messages, was sponsored by Health Advocates Rejecting Marijuana (HARM), a coalition of anti-drug youth groups, prevention specialists and law-enforcement officials-a project Horn launched earlier this year with the statement, "Marijuana and young people is a match made in hell."
One by one, the teens climbed onto the stage in a room at the posh La Costa Spa and Resort with an example of the paraphernalia-or "drugwear"-while Horn explained the specific drug reference.
"This next T-shirt has an image of two pieces of bread, with one calling the other one "toasted.' Toasted is a phrase teens use to describe being high," Horn said, reading from his notes. "You've got the regular piece of bread there, and the toasted piece, and... well, it looks like a harmless T-shirt, but it's got a message, and that message carries a lot of harm."
As indications of the need to crack down on such messages, HARM's promotional materials included information about the prevalence of marijuana use among local youth, including the carefully worded facts that "marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among youth in San Diego County," and that, according to a recent San Diego Association of Governments study, "nearly half of juvenile arrestees tested positive for marijuana."
Presenters from various youth groups expressed similar, fervent opinions on the dangerous implications of marijuana paraphernalia in their respective high schools-and their confidence in HARM's strategy for removing it.
"When people are wearing shirts that promote drug use," Karissa L'Italien said, "I think it makes it OK. Even though we've been told not to do drugs, when there are people that are older than you that are making the shirts, it definitely makes it seem OK."
Although all agreed that they didn't know anyone who had started using marijuana as a direct result of the paraphernalia, the teens also seemed to agree that its prevalence glamorized drug use in their high schools and made it seem more acceptable, and that HARM's attack on pro-marijuana clothing-both the retailers that sell it and the schools that allow it-is on the right track.
"One of the main focuses of our group is environmental prevention, and seeing kids wearing these clothes and stuff... it's definitely in the environment," said Clara Obello, another teen. "Recently, smoking has become a lot more taboo. You still see people doing it, but the environment has become a lot less conducive to smokers, so hopefully, by changing the environment, we can prevent people from starting using drugs."
Standing next to a posterboard onto which flip-flops, a belt and pins bearing outlines of marijuana leaves were affixed, Horn explained the messages he prefers to send with his personal clothing choices.
"You know, you can wear a shirt that sends whatever message you want. I'm an off-road racer guy.... I wear off-road-racing kinds of stuff. It sends a message that it's something I want to identify with. These kids that are wearing this drugwear," Horn said, waving a hand at a T-shirt featuring the words "Dr. Feelgood Delivery Service,' "It's just the wrong message."