Weed Culture at CHS


Hyunjun Kim, Katelyn Chu, and Vishal Shenoy

Teacher Perspective

“When I first got here, [there] was a big [marijuana] problem. It was very prevalent amongst our football team. And I didn’t have control over it because I didn’t really take over until the summertime,” said Chris Oswald, PE teacher and Tino Varsity Football Coach.

Conversely, Jenny Padgett, a literature teacher, has had a completely different experience at CHS: “I’ve never had a student where I’ve been walking by or around and thought, ‘Oh, that student seems high’ […] which isn’t to say that it’s never happened,” said Padgett. 

While two vastly different experiences, a similar perspective arises from both teachers – that the sheer amount of stress that students at Cupertino High School face serves as a very possible root cause for weed usage.

Said Oswald, “People are always looking for an escape, right? […] people do take things to relieve their stress, whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or whatever they do.” 


People are always looking for an escape, right? […] people do take things to relieve their stress, whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or whatever they do.”

— Chris Oswald, PE teacher and Tino Varsity Football Coach


“And obviously there’s a lot of reasons: stress, anxiety, depression, issues around food or eating […] I also think there are kids who want to do it because of [the] culture of music and movies that glorifies [weed usage],” said Padgett.

At the same time, Padgett is less concerned about marijuana use, compared to the potential use of “Adderall or [other] performance enhancement, academic kind of [drugs]–or even caffeine.” This is because Tino is a population that “wants to perform so badly” and weed is “notoriously a non performing drug [that tends to take] you out of that game [which] a lot of students here don’t want.” 

Nevertheless, to a certain extent, cannabis use exists at CHS, and teachers’ stances on approaching the issue differ. 

For the football team, “what we try to do is create an environment where ‘that’s not cool. […] If I truly knew someone who was using, again, I go, I would take them right to the office. […] for all the reasons, but mostly, you know, I want them to be healthy […] I just can’t tolerate it,” said Oswald. 

On the other hand, as someone who does not believe in “banishing” kids from school with suspensions as punishments, Padgett emphasizes the importance of understanding and of looking at the underlying issues without shaming students.

“Certainly, [teenagers using weed,] it’s not legal. So it’s not like we can just [say], ‘oh, that’s just kids’. I get that. […] But I think more important than the fact that they do it is understanding why, and I think there are as many reasons why there are kids who do.”

“I mean, we talk about stress and mental health all the time. But [it’s] a meme, that Cupertino High School teachers and admin, do their song and dance about mental health, and then turn around and say, do this [assignment], do this, do this. […] Until we do something, to remove a certain kind of stress, or introduce places and ways to cope with the reasons that students would choose to, like, self-medicate that way, then I think, then we’re just chasing after trying to catch people doing something wrong, instead of helping them cope and do things the right way,” said Padgett.

Another consequence of students lacking proper resources is Oswald’s concern that Cupertino’s sheltered, “bubble-like” environment may leave some students unprepared and vulnerable when they move onto later stages in their lives. 

“I get nervous, [when] kids leave California and go to […] college. Well, they’re a long way away from home, and no one’s watching out for [them],” said Oswald. He worries that former CHS students could get into marijuana because they have been so protected their entire lives.

In order to address this lack of education within schools, Oswald suggests, for example, improving PE health units.

Said Oswald, “I think [our health education about marijuana] needs to be more transparent so we can dispel myths.” 

Padgett agrees, saying, “the whole War on Drugs […] took conversations off the table. I mean, we just said all these things are horrible and scary and created a lot of, a lot of unnecessary fear. […] We absolutely need a transparent conversation.”

Projecting towards the future, she proposes that we create “a place where students can have conversations where they can talk about being approached by friends or being interested or curious or intrigued [by marijuana], and [think about] how can we handle [those] good impulses [to] wonder about things.”

Said Padgett, “We need to handle this in ways that are compassionate and patient. And I say not reactionary but, but proactive. […] There’s a lot of fear out there and a lot of terror, panic, you know, on behalf of parents, and it’s like, let’s all just work together.” 


Recreational Use


Marijuana. Pot. Dope. Reefer. Mary Jane. No matter what you call it, weed has certainly earned a variety of opposing stigmas and praises for its recreational purposes. 


The development of increasingly casual attitudes and relaxation of legal restrictions around weed have contributed to a rise in its recreational usage over the past few decades. Recent studies conducted by the Washington Post show that over 60% of high school seniors think marijuana is “safe” to use. Additionally, U.S. federal health data indicates that 6.3% of high school students use weed at least once a month.


Weed has been continuously glamorized by the media — advertisements creating a connotation of pleasure and celebrities ostentatiously smoking on social media flaunt the liberating benefits of weed. For example, influential rappers such as Lil Uzi Vert and Kid Cudi portray their recreational lifestyle, which includes smoking weed, to impressionable high school students through social media. 


These influences have directly impacted students at CHS. An anonymous CHS student shares, “I don’t smoke, but I feel like weed is the best because it helps many people with anxiety; it’s better than smoking [a cigarette] or vaping.” Indeed, weed still has many negative side effects which include breathing problems and increased heart rate. 


Adonis, whose name has been changed to maintain anonymity, is another CHS student who regularly smokes weed. As for the factors which influenced them to smoke, Adonis mentioned, “What got me into smoking weed was definitely the influence of other friends that had been doing it for a longer time, because hanging around with them constantly, obviously you start thinking […] Why are they doing that? What’s so good about it? You know, you just get curious.”


These social influences among weed users result in a close-knit community. Adonis added, “I feel like people who smoke weed, who are also called stoners, are very kind to one another […] There is a community or […] a family type of thing. I just see it a lot.”


In California, the minimum age requirement to purchase weed is 21 years old and medical marijuana cards require recipients to be at least 18 years old. Even then, most students do not have a medical marijuana card; they often rely on older friends or siblings to attain the “devil’s lettuce”. The complexities of this system create a nuanced community in which weed users can easily empathize with each other’s struggles. 


There are many reasons for why an individual would choose to smoke weed. Some recreational weed users may desire the psychedelic adventure of being high. For Adonis and many other students, weed is a forum of managing stress in overwhelming situations. Adonis added, “If you ever have […] something to think about when you’re high, you can think about it in a different way, in a deeper level of meaning.”


Simultaneously, weed can complicate these negative feelings if used at inappropriate times. 


“Sometimes, it gets pretty overwhelming if you’re having bad thoughts [while smoking weed] because they just multiply,” Adonis said, adding, “I only smoke weed at night… to help me relax, just meditate at the end of the day […] and that will be it. Or sometimes, I’ll get high and watch a movie […] to enjoy it and be happy.”


The positive experiences and a strong social culture surrounding weed contribute to its existence as a highly addictive stimulant among high school students. Concerning weed habits among the youth, Adonis believes, “It’s not even a bad thing to continue because you choose to not stop […] It’s like a little bit of goodness in your life.”


Medical Marijuana


A person walks into an alley and spots a group of people smoking cannabis. What are their instinctive thoughts? Most people would hold their breaths and walk past them, simply labeling them as irresponsible “potheads.” But is it an accurate assumption?


Most people would hold their breaths and walk past them, simply labeling them as irresponsible “potheads.” But is it an accurate assumption?”


Ever since California legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2016, medical weed users, generally overlooked, are often categorized into reckless, recreational individuals. Specifically, teenagers with a prescribed medical marijuana card are typically classified as “impulsive” who use drugs carelessly. 


Such stereotyping behaviors, however, are far from the truth, as a variety of people with mental health issues or other disorders are using marijuana for medicinal purposes. According to Journal Military, Veteran and Family Health (JMVFH), nearly “52% of Canadian veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder use cannabis” as a form of escape, relaxation, and pain management. In fact, minors diagnosed with a certain medical condition qualifies them into receiving a legal medical marijuana card. 


Changing lenses, students — age of 18 or under — are also applicable for acquiring the “plants” from weed dispensaries. They undergo a series of steps: filling out an online application, connecting with a medical doctor, and receiving a recommended amount of cannabis. Under the name of the parent or the minor’s guardian, students can visit any dispensaries within their respective state and receive the prescribed amount — not to mention that students can also grow cannabis plants at home.


In particular, a Cupertino alumnus shared how weed played an essential role when coping with their medical condition: dissociative identity disorder (DID). Experiencing constant moments of detachment from identity and surroundings, they struggled to continue the healthy, productive lifestyle. Shared the alumnus, “I’ve tried almost a whole spectrum of medications, but nothing was working, and I felt that hospitals were simply throwing prescriptions at me.” 


Accepting the fact that they were diagnosed with DID was difficult to process, as they mentioned how “the side effects were kicking in [left and right] and life was an absolute chaos.” — and that was when weed offered a solution to their troubled life. 


“The only reason why I ever made it to this point in life was because of weed,” said the alumnus. “Floating a thick cloud while playing music in the car helped me escape from this world momentarily, and I loved that feeling.” People have various ways of coping with their stress brewed from academics, friends, or personal reasons; for the alumnus, their main source for “de-stressing” was weed. 


But indeed, dealing with the numerous stigmas revolving around weed was simply inevitable. The alumnus recalls back on an instance when “people in [my] classroom would start laughing or giggle whenever someone mentioned the terms ‘weed’ or ‘marijuana.’” Shared the alumnus, “people are simply portrayed as ‘stoners’ because they use weed, but some people actually rely on it to live to see tomorrow.” 


Amidst the general community of smokers, particular individuals—like the alumnus—consider weed as a source that keeps them conscious of their life. 


“Weed is like my lifeline,” concluded the alumnus.