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Miami Teen Reflects On Marijuana Use Among His Peers


In Florida, advocates for medical marijuana say they've submitted a petition with more than a million signatures to state election officials. That means Florida made broaden who can use marijuana in the state. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia allow its use in some form. Deandre Benjamin, a reporter with WLRN's youth project, lives in Miami. In this story produced with Youth Radio, he takes a look at how his friends view marijuana.

DEANDRE BENJAMIN, BYLINE: I live in a neighborhood called Overtown. It's a part of Miami where black artists like Ella Fitzgerald used to stay after playing for white audiences on Miami Beach. Today, mostly poor people live there. Not a lot of people walk around, but people do walk to the corner store across from my apartment. A lot of them for the same reason.

Can I get an 1882, Honey Berry?

1882 is the name of a cigar. I'm buying it for my neighbor. He doesn't plan on smoking the cigar. He wants to unravel it, dump the tobacco out and use the tobacco leaf to roll a joint. We call that a pasto.

FELIPE: The first time I started smoking I was 14 years old. I was at a party. Due to peer pressure, I thought I'd be cool if everybody saw me smoking, so I tried it.

BENJAMIN: We're not using his name because weed is illegal in Florida. My neighbor is 17 now, and he doesn't feel like he's addicted to weed.

FELIPE: It's just a hobby. I can go multiple days without smoking.

BENJAMIN: I doubt that. I know him. He smokes four or five times a day - every day.

FELIPE: I told myself multiple times I was going to stop, but as the years pass I continue to use marijuana. I am smoking now, but I wouldn't call it an addiction. I think I can call it a hobby.

BENJAMIN: A lot of my friends who smoke don't see marijuana as something that can make you dependent. They look at other drugs like heroin, crack or even Percs - Percocets - as the only stuff you really need to worry about. But Cynthia Rowe says my friends are wrong. She works at the University of Miami Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse.

CYNTHIA ROWE: What worries us most about using, about smoking pot regularly or other drugs, is you become unavailable to yourself. You become unavailable to deal with people in the way that's going to get your needs met, to make decisions about the life you want to lead.

BENJAMIN: A lot of my friends and I come from broken homes, broken families, poverty, just the world being on your shoulders at a young age. In my family, my dad's gone. I help keep my two younger brothers in line. I don't always know where we're going to get dinner to eat. Look, a lot of kids have tried pot. And I've tried it myself. It's helped us escape. I have a family member who used to smoke all the time.

NICK: It was an everyday thing - after school, before school, in the mornings, at night, before I eat dinner I'll go out there and, you know, smoke.

BENJAMIN: He's 17 and started smoking weed at 15.

NICK: I like the feeling of it, of being mellow and all that. And I was always looking for that type of feeling.

BENJAMIN: He says he eventually realized he had a habit.

NICK: I started to notice when I was on probation and on multiple occasions I was tested positive for marijuana and at that moment I was like I need to change.

BENJAMIN: He says his mom thought he was addicted and seeing how she was affected got him to quit.

NICK: I mean, seeing the look on my mother's face knowing that she was trying to do her best to stop me from staying away from marijuana, that really touched my heart.

BENJAMIN: Weed helps alleviate some of the stress of living in this neighborhood. It slows the anxiety down. It helps you relax. But there are some downsides, too. Like the fact that marijuana is still illegal here. But legal or not, marijuana is always going to be easy to get. It's just like grass outside. For NPR News, I'm Deandre Benjamin.

SHAPIRO: Deandre's story comes to us from WLRN's youth project and URGENT, Inc., produced with Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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