Dear District 5 Neighbors,
Earlier this month the City Council held an unusual work session on an important public health matter: drug and alcohol use among teens. Ralph Cantor, a very highly regarded local health educator, did a presentation about the impacts of marijuana use on the developing adolescent brain. (Link to meeting video.) In short, Council learned that still-developing adolescent brains suffer from regular use of drugs, affecting cognitive function and impeding adolescents’ emotional development.
Ralph’s presentation, scheduled at my request, represented the culmination of my two-years participation on the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug (ATOD) Task Force, a City/School District collaboration to address the high rates of substance use and abuse by youth in Berkeley. I have long had serious concerns about youth drug and alcohol use (especially in Civic Center Park) and its impacts on students’ readiness to learn in the classroom. Since joining the Task Force two years ago, I have had many meetings with City staff, community members and education leaders who agree that this is a big and complicated problem in Berkeley.
While several members of the Task Force are focusing on community and parent education, I have been approaching the problem from a legislative angle. The City’s written and effective marijuana policy is unclear, putting enforcement of marijuana laws as the lowest priority for the police, and making no distinction between minor and adult use. Minors can easily obtain marijuana and alcohol, substances they perceive as less harmful than tobacco. And there is a common perception that our community is tolerant of use by minors.
After the work session, I submitted a Council Item for July 2, 2013 asking the City, the Police Department, the School District and the School Board to collaborate on policies and procedures to more actively discourage marijuana smoking, tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption by minors, particularly in the environs of Civic Center Park. But I am also requesting that when there is opportunity for discretion, intervention and recovery should be emphasized, rather than enforcement and discipline. I would like to see research on the best youth diversion programs for discussion of possible implementation in Berkeley. I want to ensure that effective interventions are available to assist students who use marijuana, tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
Ralph’s presentation confirmed my concerns that the substance use and abuse by minors impairs a child’s physical health, emotional development and academic success. While this effort will be a cross-jurisdictional challenge, I am confident that it can help improve Berkeley youth’s health and school performance, which will offer them greater opportunities for future success.
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In other news, I am very pleased to have also been a part of the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC)’s allocation of $12.7 million to downtown Berkeley. My work as an ACTC commissioner gives me an opportunity to focus on the critical function that transit development plays in our county’s economic health and future.
The City has also received a federal grant to do a pilot study to ease congestion in the Downtown, the Elmwood and Southside: goBerkeley.
Finally, we have been tracking the public process around Measure M, the $30 million Streets and Watershed bond measure approved by Berkeley voters last November. There is one more public meeting for community input before the Public Works Commission makes its recommendation to City Council. I encourage everyone who drives, bikes and walks on our streets to weigh in.
Berkeley City Council, District 5
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