The controversy as to whether or not drugs should be legalized is not a pressing topic with today’s teens; however, many have strong opinions on the subject. Nicole, a 16-year-old senior at Al Raby High School, emphatically says no. Like most teens, Nicole has been exposed to drugs simply by walking through her neighborhood.

“It’s not uncommon to walk down the street and someone say ‘weed,’ ‘blow,’ or ‘rocks,'” Nicole said. “They just stand around and as you past by; they say it just loud enough for you to hear them without drawing attention to themselves.”

Nicole said she never has and never will use drugs. “I’m against it being legalized because I think it will cause more problems in the African-American community. I’ve seen people get shot and beaten up badly over a drug deal gone badly,” she said “If drugs become legal, then the people will really lose their minds.”

Malia, 16, and Michela, 18, both students at Austin Polytech High School, had similar comments and opinions.

“If drugs become legal,” Malia said, “then we would probably see people lying out in the streets blowed!” Malia said she knows plenty of people who use drugs, including some of her friends and classmates. “I’ve seen people beaten down, but that didn’t stop them from using drugs,” she added.

Michela, like several other students, said one of her family members was killed because of drugs. “My mother and I tried for years to get him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen. Then one day he was walking down the street and someone just popped him,” she said of her then 19-year old brother.

Tina, 17, says she is opposed to drugs being legalized because the whole purpose of using drugs is to get high. “You should be able to get high off life,” she said. “If drugs are made legal, then the kids will stay high and the dropout rate will probably go through the roof. People will be laying around in the streets and refuse to get a job. Crime would soar. People will steal to support their drug habit.”

In response to the argument that drugs should be legalized, because alcohol is legal, Tina’s opposition increased. “I know a lot of people push for drugs to be made legal because alcohol is legal; like they want some kind of fairness or equality. But, they’re both bad. They only good thing about alcohol is that people can drink alcohol and not get drunk,” Tina said.

“The only reason people use drugs is to get high.” she added. “If teens don’t have to hide to get high, then this world will really be messed up. Besides, alcohol is like a baby in terms of drugs. You see what it does to people. It ruins marriages and destroys families. Kids have to live with abusive drunken fathers and angry mothers, and that still is not as bad as what cocaine and other hard drugs do to people. If drugs like cocaine and those which cause you to hallucinate are legalized, people’s lives would really be destroyed,” she added.

Bryant, a 15-year-old at Austin High School, said “If the drugs are chemically mixed, then I think they should be legal. I mean drugs like drow and cush. They’re not really drugs, they are plants. Anything you can grow and get from the ground should be legal.”

Sixteen-year old Norbert echoed those thoughts and went so far as to say, “If the doctor can give you a prescription for it, it should be legal. I know some people use marijuana for medical purposes. They shouldn’t have to worry about going to jail,” he added.

Many teens think the drug war will only increase if drugs are legalized.

“It will probably become like the wild west,” said Oscar, 17. “In my neighborhood, we don’t even jump anymore when we hear a gun shot. If the dealers and the junkies get into something, then we all will have to hide.”

None of the teens interviewed admitted to using drugs. A few said they didn’t want to say. National statistics show that the majority of high school students are opposed to legalizing drugs like LSD, heroin, barbiturates and amphetamines. However, the vast majority favors legalization of marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drugs, the use of marijuana fell from 56 percent to 39 percent between 1990 and 1997. Sadly, however, the use of other drugs rose.

Teens have access to many types of narcotics. In some homes the medicine cabinets are filled with prescription drugs, which to an experimenting teen, is like having their own private pharmaceutical laboratory.

Sam, a 17-year old Oak Park senior said, “Teens make a drug out of just about anything. They sniff cayenne pepper, crushed up mints, laundry starch and any kind of spray cleaners. They make special brownies with weed mixed with some drugs. They drink mouth wash, and mix their own concoctions. If they want to get high, they find a way.”

The encouraging news is that current statistics show that many teens are reassessing the dangers and ills of using drugs, including alcohol. This could be because of the increased public awareness brought about through anti-drug commercials and printed ads. It could be because of the things the teens experienced while under the influence of drugs or the things they saw friends or family members go through while under the influence.

Although the music industry and movies still glorify the use of drugs, today’s teens seem to be taking a sensible approach and are making better choices. Michele said she attended the Illinois Teen Institute last year and participated in Snowball, a peer-led program to deter youths from using alcohol or drugs.

“I really enjoyed it,” Michele said. “I learned a lot. I learned how to find the high inside of me without turning to substances. I would like to bring this program to Austin High School,” she added. “I am sure it will help a lot of students.”

Like Michele, Tina believes anti-drug use programs are the way to go. “I am strongly opposed to legalizing drugs,” Tina said. “No good will comes of it. We need a chance to make something of ourselves and contribute to the world. We need to do it drug and alcohol free.”