News & Politics

Getting High

It's no longer just the Potheads and the Stoners. Now it's the Honors students and the Athletes who are smoking marijuana

It was past midnight when Keith pulled into Sam's driveway in Bethesda and turned off the engine. The light was off in Sam's parents' bedroom. Sam and two other friends were in the car with Keith, who put on a Bob Marley CD and rolled up the windows. One of the boys pulled out a bag of marijuana. Someone produced a glass pipe.

Keith wasn't worried. He knew spots in his friends' neighborhoods that were safe to smoke in. They'd hide the pipe if they saw headlights. Everyone would keep an eye on the bedroom window of Sam's parents.

They packed a bowl, and Keith lit the pipe. He sucked the smoke into his lungs and began coughing as he passed the pipe.

The air inside got thick and hazy. While they "blazed"–their term for smoking pot–they talked about girls and what had gone on that night. Keith got higher and higher.

That was the point: When you "hotbox" a car, every breath counts. Nobody wants to let in fresh air–that's "breaking the box." Small cars like Keith's work best.

After 25 minutes, the guys finished their fifth or sixth rotation and sat in the car until someone–Keith doesn't remember who–broke the box. They rolled down the windows, got out of the car, and watched as the smoke rose into the summer sky.

A few minutes later, Keith put mint gum in his mouth and drove his friends to McDonald's. He stopped at 7-Eleven for an air-freshener tree. He'd use that and some Febreze to deodorize the car–his mom might use it the next day.

For Keith, an honors student and athlete at Bethesda's Walter Johnson High School, the ride was no big deal. He was used to driving high.

Montgomery County police officer Rick Burge can't remember the last time he busted a high-school party where there wasn't marijuana. If he doesn't see it, he smells it or finds a bag of it under a couch cushion. "It's not like it used to be, where you'd go to a party and it'd be three or four guys sitting around smoking weed," says Burge, one of the county's drug-recognition experts. "Half the party's doing it now." He says girls are smoking as much as boys.

Burge, a 1988 graduate of Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, says when he was a teenager he could tell who the smokers were. Now he can't.

A few years ago, Burge pulled over two "average-looking Potomac kids" after watching them buy beer in Rockville. They were sober, but he noticed a pipe in the car's console. He then found scales, plastic bags, and a backpack. The high-school students were driving around with a half-pound of marijuana.

"You could have the honors student, cheerleader, football-player-dating girl with straight A's who may be the go-between for some drug dealer, just selling the stuff at school," says Burge, who speaks to tenth-grade health classes at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Walt Whitman, and Walter Johnson high schools. "You just never know what you're going to encounter."

For teens, blazing is easy. They can buy marijuana within a half hour. If there's no smoking apparatus, they can use an apple. They cut out most of the core, put foil with holes in it in the top to form a bowl, and stick a hollow pen-shaft through the side of the apple for the mouthpiece.

Some kids get high after school around 3, put eye drops in, go home, and eat dinner with their parents. They don't worry about getting home because they don't think blazing affects their driving.

In response to a survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Education, 42 percent of 12th-graders in Montgomery County public schools said they had used marijuana. A 2001 survey showed that 45 percent of Fairfax County 12th-graders had used marijuana.

A senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda says about 75 percent of the seniors in his class have tried pot, and a quarter smoke regularly. Keith thinks that about 30 percent of students at Walter Johnson blaze most weekends and that 10 percent smoke several times a week or more.

The University of Mississippi's Marijuana Potency Project, published in July, found that the average tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in marijuana have more than doubled over the last 15 years–to almost 8 percent. "Kindbud," a high-grade marijuana that was once a luxury for teens, is popular among high-school dealers in Montgomery County.

Some of today's homegrown varieties of marijuana contain THC levels greater than 20 percent. Says a former police officer, "That can knock your socks off."

Keith paid $45 for two grams of marijuana the first time he blazed. He and a friend bought that first bag from a sophomore–they were freshmen then–who met them in the parking lot at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda.

Keith hadn't planned to get high that night. He was on a "no drugs" kick–he thought smoking would slow him down in his sport. But it was the last day of the season, and when he went to a friend's house to shoot some hoops, his friend said he'd rather smoke. Keith had heard it was cool to smoke and then play ball. His friend had a pipe. Keith called his mom to see if she would drop them at the mall.

After the purchase, Keith put the bag in his jeans pocket, and the two teens went inside to the food court to find matches. A girl they knew was working there. They told her it was Keith's first time smoking. She told Keith he'd like it, handed them a lighter, and said they could keep it. "Trust me," she said, "you'll need it."

They went up to the top level of the parking lot. Keith ducked behind a car and took a hit while his friend kept a lookout. They alternated. "Oh, my God," Keith thought to himself. "The DEA is gonna sweep in and catch us."

After they shared four bowls, Keith tucked the bag inside his tennis shoe, and he and his friend walked around the mall. Keith felt like everyone was looking at him. His mouth was dry. He got hungry. He stared at a light in the Sharper Image. He laughed.

The boys ate at Panda Express and then went to Nordstrom, where they sprayed themselves head-to-toe with cologne. His friend's mom picked them up a little later and asked about the odor. Nordstrom was giving out samples, they told her.

At Keith's friend's house later that night, they put a towel under the bedroom door, opened the window, and lit another bowl. His parents were asleep on the same level.

Fairfax County teacher Eileen McLaughlin stands in front of a table in a large room in an administrative building in Falls Church. The table is covered with flavored beers, tobacco, and drug paraphernalia. She's giving parents a lesson.

"Our kids are very clever," she says. "They take a soda can, crush it, make one hole, and smoke through it."

She holds up what looks like a green highlighter. "It's a marijuana pipe," McLaughlin says. "They get it off the Internet."

She picks up a paper-towel roll and demonstrates how teens stick a laundry dryer sheet at the end and exhale through the roll. "Got high and Mom and Dad are coming home soon?" she says. "The house will smell Downy fresh."

For five years, McLaughlin has been listening to Fairfax middle- and high-school students say things parents don't like to hear. Under the county's Safe and Drug-Free Youth program, students who get caught once for alcohol or drug offenses (not including distribution) can, as part of a suspension, spend three days in the classroom of McLaughlin and her colleague Liz Honig. For tobacco violations, students spend one day there. The walls are covered with anti-drug, anti-smoking, and drunk-driving posters. There's candy on a table for students who crave cigarettes.

The teens, who have included student-government presidents and International Baccalaureate students, sit at desks in a semicircle and swap stories, which are kept confidential. It's the first time many have been in trouble.

Discussion topics include how they feel when they're high, when they started smoking, and what they lace their pot with. A few students have told McLaughlin and Honig that they smoke with their parents. Some make their pipes in school. One of McLaughlin's colleagues has talked to Fairfax girls who hide pot in tampon containers.

Guest speakers include a lawyer who performs a skit about possession laws. He plays the dealer. He asks students to stand around him, then drops a bag of "marijuana" (it's mulch) on the ground. The students, he explains, are now as guilty as he is.

At the meeting with parents, McLaughlin hands out drug-testing kits for them to take home. She also has a copy of High Times magazine.

"A lot are adding OxyContin to their marijuana," McLaughlin tells the parents. If they add opium, she says, they call it "red rock."

She has a small black butterfly clip, the kind that binds paper together, attached to the plastic ID holder around her neck. Teens use the clips for joints, she says. "When it burns down, it gets hotter and hotter, and they want to keep their fingers from getting burned but not waste any."

McLaughlin notes that you can buy blunts–cigars that teens cut open and fill with marijuana–at convenience stores. They come in different flavors. She recently picked up a tiny blue pipe, sized for a key chain, at a gas station nearby. As long as the products are intended for tobacco use, merchants can sell them.

One mother approaches McLaughlin during a break. "Things have changed so much since I was a kid," she says.

Abox of Phillies blunts is empty on the kitchen counter of a nice house in Bethesda. Beside it is a can of Lysol and some empty Bud Light cans. The crowd in the kitchen is watching a beer-pong game. Red plastic cups are half-filled with Corona, a step up from what Keith and his friends usually drink. What you're drinking isn't as important as how fast you get the ball into your opponent's cup.

It's a warm night, and a few partygoers are funneling beers on the back porch. The hosts' parents are out of town. One guest pours a Coors Light into the top of a funnel while another wraps his mouth around the end of the long thin tube. It's a form of chugging. Girls are smoking cigarettes.

In the dining room, a tall guy opens his wallet and pulls out a folded green bill. He unwraps it and shows his friend the thick marijuana bud inside.

The beer is running low, so someone asks who'll "throw down" for more. All they need is money. One of the guys has a fake ID that always works.

Keith sits in the dining room holding a new, uncut blunt between two fingers. One of his buddies has pulled a bottle of Jose Cuervo out of the liquor cabinet. They're going shot for shot. A few girls are, too. Keith puts the blunt in his shorts pocket and walks out the front door with a few friends.

There's a knock at the door, then silence. Someone yells, "Po!"–short for police. Teens head for the side door to the porch.

The girls from Winston Churchill don't need this again. They say they were at a party in Potomac where the host refused to answer the door and police surrounded the house for hours. Teens inside finally called their parents, who made a deal with the police: no citations if they picked up their kids.

It's a false alarm–a friend trying to scare everyone.

The tall guy moves to the living room, sits on a couch, and breaks up his bud on the coffee table. He fills a blunt while a few people watch and wait to share it. He tries to seal the blunt back together with saliva. Beer pong resumes with a new 30-pack.

Police officer Rick Burge spent Friday and Saturday nights last spring looking for parties. On a good weekend, he and other members of Montgomery County's alcohol task force broke up three to five parties. The county added extra officers for prom season. By May, they'd handed out more than 400 citations for underage drinking–including some to Keith and his friends.

"Nine out of ten times we enforce the alcohol violations as opposed to the drug violations," Burge says.

Teens say once they hear police at a party, they bolt. If they can't get out–officers try to cover doorways and backyards–they hide.

"We're not going to walk inside and see someone holding a beer bottle in their hand," Burge says, "let alone a marijuana pipe."

Burge says he might find four teens upstairs under beds, ten on the middle floor, and two hiding in the basement. If he sees a pipe on a downstairs pool table, he says, it's a stretch to arrest all the partygoers for its possession.

"The judge is going to look at one pipe and 15 people," Burge says. "That's your uphill battle–to prove whose it really is."

Possession of alcohol is a civil violation–it doesn't give police the right to search someone.

"If marijuana is there and we can put it on someone, they'll get charged with a drug offense," Burge says.

If Burge finds an adult with a small bag of pot and a pipe, he's more likely to hand out a citation for possession of drug paraphernalia than to arrest the person for marijuana possession. "It makes no sense for me to take you up to the jail to charge you with that when the exact same thing is going to happen on either charge in court," Burge says. But he has to arrest juveniles on either charge. If officers could issue citations to juveniles for marijuana offenses instead of having to take them to the police station, Burge says, "you'd see arrests go up exponentially."

When he charges juveniles, Burge calls their parents. "Some parents get there and are devastated," he says. "Other parents are like, 'Don't you have anything better to do with your time?' "

Keith didn't go to many big parties as a freshman, and only a few of his friends drank. An older player on his team was selling marijuana, so Keith started buying more.

During fall of his sophomore year, Keith and his friends started a Friday tradition of smoking before the evening football games.

Sometimes an older friend would see Keith's group hanging around outside and tell them to hop in the car. They'd drive around and smoke. When he got invited to a chaperoned hotel party, Keith collected money from his friends and bought weed to take along.

On April 20, 2002, Keith spent the day getting high. He was celebrating. Among teen smokers, "4/20" is a holiday. The date has become known as code for smoking marijuana and is a popular day for smokers to "wake and bake." Friends called one another all day asking who had weed. Keith blazed with friends and some guys he'd never met, in cars and parks. They smoked out of pipes and a bong.

Soon Keith and a few others pooled $200 to buy their first glass bong. Keith thought it was incredible. It got him higher than a pipe did.

By the end of sophomore year, a few of Keith's friends had cars. More people were smoking, including athletes. Keith knew he'd play better if he didn't get high so often, but he didn't want to stop.

Friends started giving friends pot in exchange for money but didn't consider it dealing. Upperclassmen could dupe freshmen by putting oregano in their bags. Prices were $15 to $20 for a gram (now some pay $10), $30 for two grams, and $45 for an eighth of an ounce. A gram filled a blunt. An eighth could get four people high for at least three sessions.

On desks at school, Keith noticed inscriptions like "4/20 Forever" and drawings of marijuana leaves.

During a student-government election last year, a student at Walter Johnson High School mentioned in his speech that he'd make 4/20 a holiday if he was elected.

Lisa Kennedy, security-team leader at Walter Johnson, says she sees more marijuana use–and more honor-roll smokers–than she did when she came to the school in 1994. Says an honors student, "When I smoked the most, I had the best quarter grades. My parents are gonna say something if my grades drop."

Kennedy, who gets tips from students, has discovered a few younger female students carrying marijuana for older dealers.

Walter Johnson, which ranked 47th on a 2003 Newsweek list of the top 100 public schools in the nation, is one of six Montgomery County schools with an open-lunch policy for all grade levels. Students are allowed to leave school grounds for 45 minutes. Fifth period, right after they get back, is a busy time for Kennedy. Walter Johnson assistant principal Carol Goddard doesn't think open lunch is a problem–students who smoke during lunch, she says, aren't engaged in school and would leave during the school day to smoke anyway.

Students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School say peers have been caught smoking pot during open lunch outside a small cafe across the street, near the spot where cigarette smokers convene.

Some teens learn their rights, including search-and-seizure laws, in government or law classes. A Bethesda high-school teacher told his students they should cover the pipes and bongs in their cars with a blanket. A few students at the same school say they've smoked pot with a teacher.

In Montgomery County public schools, students caught under the influence of marijuana can receive up to a ten-day suspension. For distribution of marijuana, students usually face expulsion; those arrested for possession can be recommended for it.

Last year 250 Montgomery County students were suspended for drug offenses; 13 of them were expelled. A county official says drugs other than marijuana are rare. During the 2002-03 school year, 270 Fairfax County students were suspended for drug and alcohol offenses and recommended for expulsion–228 of the cases were marijuana related.

During a parent awareness meeting at Walter Johnson in May, an administrator told parents he could search cars, lockers, and book bags based on reasonable suspicion or an anonymous tip–and ask students to do a self-search. He doesn't need parental permission.

The administrator discussed what's called the student-assistance team. Anyone who is worried about a student's involvement with alcohol or drugs is encouraged to fill out an anonymous "concern form." The team, which includes teachers, counselors, and security personnel, checks on the student's grades, absences, behavior problems, and visits to the nurse. If the team leader thinks there's a problem, parents are contacted and an intervention process begins. It's a countywide program.

"My goal is not to get students kicked out of school or arrested," he told the parents. "My major goal is to get students help."

Goddard says most parents express disbelief when they're called and told "your son or daughter is sitting here high."

Goddard often pushes for the maximum penalties for drug offenders. Some parents fight back. They want suspensions erased: College applications ask if students have been suspended. A 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act can prohibit students who have an adult drug conviction from receiving federal aid for college for at least a year from the date of conviction.

At Walt Whitman, one of the first Montgomery County schools to institute a "zero tolerance" drug-and-alcohol policy, students who get caught at school or school functions face an additional penalty–one calendar year without extracurricular activities. Former principal Jerome Marco, who recently retired after 29 years at Whitman, implemented the policy in the early '90s after he'd seen too many students killed in alcohol-related accidents. The only way to prevent such tragedies, he thought, would be to threaten students' transcripts.

"I couldn't screw around with the grades," Marco says. "But I could get you on your extracurricular activities."

Scott Saling was at football practice at Whitman when Marco spoke to his team about zero tolerance. Marco handed out a piece of paper; Saling didn't pay much attention.

He started smoking pot the summer before tenth grade. He stopped for football season, then started again. He smoked on weekends and bad days.

Soon he and friends started pooling their money to buy weed for the day. He'd become a daily smoker by the end of football season his senior year.

One morning in November 2002, Scott gave a friend a ride to school. They skipped first period and drove around in Saling's Pontiac smoking weed in a homemade bong. They went to class second period, then Scott skipped third to get something to eat. When he pulled into the school parking lot, a security guard approached, told him something was wrong with his assigned parking spot, and told him to come to the office.

A police officer arrived 30 minutes later. "We just caught your buddy, and he told us there's a bong in your car," the officer said. When Saling denied it, the officer told him that school security could search his car because it was on school property.

Scott let the officer search. He was arrested for possession of paraphernalia. It was his first time getting in trouble at school. He left in handcuffs.

His friend, who'd been caught by school security that morning on suspicion of being high, also was arrested. Saling didn't know that his friend had been carrying a scale and bags of weed when he got in the Pontiac that morning.

Scott, then 17, attended a six-week drug-rehabilitation program and completed 24 hours of community service. A few days after the arrest, he learned he wouldn't walk across the stage for graduation at Constitution Hall.

Scott's mom, Debby, had no problem with Scott's missing the prom and other senior events, but she'd waited 12 years to see her son graduate. She'd been active at school and arranged summer plans around football. She'd donated money to Whitman.

When she met with Scott's teachers, they told her they'd suspected for "quite some time" that her son smoked pot. She was upset that nobody had called her.

She argued Scott's case to the Board of Education, which was split in its vote on whether graduation is a right or a privilege. She researched lawsuits against county schools and appealed to the district court, where she lost again. She subsequently appealed to the State Board of Education, but graduation day had passed.

"One mistake doesn't justify him not being able to walk down the aisle with a cap and gown," Debby Saling says. "That's something we'll never get back." She took Scott out to dinner the night his friends graduated.

The Montgomery County school board recently clarified the policy: Exclusion from a graduation ceremony cannot be included in a zero-tolerance policy, but a principal can still prevent a student from taking part. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Marco liked zero tolerance as it was. He'd heard positive feedback the last few years from the hotel where Whitman had its prom.

During the spring of his junior year, Keith smoked out of his bong at lunch only if he had a substitute teacher or a film was being shown in his afternoon classes. He usually smoked bowls or blunts.

He and his friends went to empty houses–parents were at work–or smoked in parked cars on neighborhood streets. They occasionally went to Great Falls. It was usually just the guys; most of Keith's female friends didn't smoke during the week.

Keith put in eye drops, sprayed deodorant, drank a soda, and chewed gum before he went back into school. Once in a while he changed his shirt. Teachers never questioned him.

Sometimes he didn't go back to class. He knew which of his teachers wouldn't fail him for unexcused absences. He had a high GPA in honors classes. Teachers liked him. His coach once told his team, "Nobody get caught drinking or smoking. Don't be stupid."

Keith often smoked at lunch, after school, and in the evening. He told his parents he was working on a project. Sometimes he did homework high, read it the next morning, and noticed he'd left out words. He smoked the night before the SATs, but he wasn't worried–he'd been high for harder tests than that.

He occasionally ate pot brownies. He liked the body high he got from the THC going into his digestive system. It was different from the head high from smoking.

He kept finding out about people who smoked. "For a little bit it was the cool thing to do," Keith says. "After a while, it was just something everyone did."

Bryan, a Montgomery County honors student, didn't take weed to senior beach week in May. He took two bottles of rum. After smoking every day most of his freshman year, he'd hardly smoked at all the last two years. He'd stopped after a rough week his sophomore year when he smoked five times a day. He saw a picture of himself and decided he hated what smoking was doing to his body. He felt burned out.

He didn't think he'd blaze much at the beach. But the guys he shared a house with brought an ounce, rolling papers, blunts, a glass pipe, and hookah pipes.

Bryan blazed more than he'd planned to. At parties at home, guys often pay $5 to get in on a smoking session; girls smoke for free. At the beach, Bryan's friends let him smoke whenever he wanted. "Wanna come here and hit this?" they'd ask. Bryan usually did.

Bryan blazed one night after he drank a lot, which gave him the spins. Mixing alcohol and pot never got Bryan higher–just drunker. He blacked out three times in six nights.

He started smoking a few times a week when he got home. One night in July, Bryan and some friends crushed half a codeine pill and sprinkled the powder on their pot, a process called "snowcapping."

"I was annihilated," he says.

A few days later, he took a hit from a "gravity bong," which uses an empty bottle with the bottom cut out, a pitcher of water, and a makeshift bowl to create a waterfall effect. The smoke went directly into Bryan's lungs and made his throat burn. He thought his heart was going to stop.

Bryan joked with a friend that he was "making a comeback."

Jessica isn't a smoker. She tried pot once, and it wasn't her thing. She'd rather drink.

Jessica, a student at the Bullis School in Potomac, doesn't like what pot is doing to her tight-knit group of friends. Some of them smoke; some don't. One friend showed up high for another's birthday dinner.

Jessica gets annoyed that girls in her group carry weed in their purses. Her friend offers to be the designated driver and then announces she's smoking. One high friend drove them into a ditch in Potomac.

"They're mean when they're not high," Jessica says. "It's this weird withdrawal, bitter thing." She has started spending less time with them.

Couples run into similar problems. A few of Keith's female friends broke up with their boyfriends because they didn't like them when they were high.

"I'll never kiss a guy after he smokes," says a Walter Johnson sophomore. Among teens, a reference to "smoking" now implies pot, not cigarettes.

At parties, many teens choose between drinking and smoking, depending on their mood. "If everyone's high at a party," one senior says, "it's not a fun party."

Mike, a junior, likes to watch movies when he's blazing. He doesn't smoke if he's trying to hook up–putting his arm around a girl takes too much effort. He hopes the girl isn't smoking. He'd rather they both be drinking.

Keith sometimes smokes a blunt at stop signs while a friend looks out for cops. "You check your mirrors," he says. "You know certain streets you can smoke on."

His buddy has taken bong hits at the wheel, holding the bong between his legs. Another student who no longer smokes couldn't find her house once when she drove home high.

Research shows that marijuana impairs coordination, balance, and reaction time.

"A car runs a red light or a kid runs out in front of a car–you can't plan on that," says J. Michael Walsh, a substance-abuse expert who has researched "drugged driving" for more than 20 years. "The time it takes to get your foot off the accelerator and onto the brake is slowed."

Many teens think they're better drivers when they've smoked–that pot is not like alcohol, and they're still in control. They don't hear about accidents caused by people driving high, mainly because alcohol often is involved and gets the blame.

According to a 2002 survey of Montgomery County high-school seniors, 6 percent of respondents had driven at least three times after one to four drinks in the previous year. More than twice as many students had driven three or more times under the influence of marijuana.

Arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana are much less frequent than those for drunk driving. There are no breath tests for marijuana. If a person has also been drinking, signs of marijuana use might be masked. An arresting officer who suspects marijuana use must call a drug-recognition expert to the police station. In Maryland officers are limited to testing drivers' blood–other states also use urine.

"To get blood is difficult," Walsh says. "You have to haul them off to a hospital, and there isn't money in the budget to test the blood."

In Maryland, driving high and driving with a .07 blood alcohol content (BAC) fall under the same category: "driving while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs." The maximum penalty for a first-time offender is $500, eight points on your license, and up to 60 days in jail. Drivers with .08 BAC face steeper penalties.

A three-month study at the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center last year showed that 54 percent of 16- to 20-year-old drivers admitted to the shock-trauma unit tested positive for marijuana. A third of those drivers also had alcohol in their systems.

Says a senior at Fairfax High School, "No one ever tells you driving high is bad."

At the end of junior year, a friend said he'd give Keith a quarter-ounce–about seven grams–for $50. Keith realized he could sell one-gram bags for $20 each and make $90. Freshmen looked up to juniors and seniors, so he figured they'd readily throw him a twenty. He started getting a half ounce of Kindbud every couple of weeks.

Keith sold to private-school friends who didn't smoke as often. They blazed on special occasions–it's easier for students at a small school to get a reputation–and needed a hookup.

He didn't like it when people he didn't know called him for pot. He worried that he might get robbed. He didn't want to be known as "Keith, the drug dealer."

Mark bought a scale on eBay for $30. He started dealing, or "slanging," at the end of tenth grade. He liked making money. And he liked always having pot.

Mark, an athlete, got the weed from a friend he worked with at a restaurant. He started selling to friends from school. Word spread. Soon he was selling to friends of friends. He bought a couple hundred dollars' worth, then twice that.

He talked to his buyers online. They used simple instant-message exchanges: "You got it?" and "Can I get some?" and "I'll bring it tomorrow." Sometimes they referred to pot as "nugs," short for nuggets.

Mark hid his supply under his dresser or in his closet. He'd take weed to school and slip it in the buyer's backpack or slap hands in the hallway to make the exchange. Sometimes, instead of a straight deal, he'd just smoke with guys, and they'd pay him $5.

Mark's cell phone rang a lot on Friday nights. He had good prices. He thought his Kindbud was better than average–he knew by the look, the smell, and the high.

There were lots of students who made $20 sales to friends, but people came to Mark for bigger amounts. He'd meet buyers at a park or somewhere close to where he was. For a worthwhile sale, he'd drive to the customer. If he'd never met the person, he'd bring a friend along for protection.

Mark always picked up weed from the same friend from work. He was never scared. He knew a dealer who'd been robbed at gunpoint in College Park, but he'd never heard of any problems in Bethesda. He could get marijuana without putting himself in dangerous situations. He occasionally sold pot at parties. He ran from a party once when he had an ounce on him and thought the cops were coming.

Mark made about $100 every time he bought pot. He spent or smoked his profit. By the middle of junior year, he was sick of the calls. His best connection wasn't coming through. He stopped dealing. He says he didn't need the stress.

Keith and his friends stopped bringing weed to school last year. They'd heard that administrators were cracking down and asking, "Who did you get this from?" Nobody wanted to rat out a friend.

A Walter Johnson student was expelled last year when his name kept coming up when other students were caught. "He looked like just an everyday normal kid in the school," assistant principal Goddard says. "But he was dealing." She describes him as a good student "with everything going for him."

At the parent meeting at Walter Johnson, assistant state's attorney Maura Lynch told parents that a recent distribution arrest in the county had been made after the school's educational-facilities officer (EFO), a police officer assigned full-time to a school cluster, heard about the student from peers. The EFO program started in 2003; now 17 of the county's 24 high schools have EFOs.

An administrator said there had been 14 alcohol or marijuana-related "situations" at the school last year. Lynch says the numbers at Walter Johnson are encouraging. Other schools, she says, "could catch someone every day if they wanted."

Walter Johnson students say there used to be a handful of dealers; now there are fewer. A Churchill senior says each grade has a couple of dealers. "People with common sense keep everything out of school," he says.

In Maryland, an adult convicted of distribution, a felony, faces up to a $15,000 fine and up to five years in jail. Giving pot to a friend can be considered distribution. Possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum one-year sentence and $1,000 fine.

Juveniles face the same maximum penalty for possession as for distribution–they can be placed under court supervision until they're 21. The court can require supervised probation, community service, drug treatment, and detention at a juvenile facility. A juvenile isn't technically "convicted," so nothing appears on his or her adult record.

In 2003, there were 42 marijuana-distribution arrests and 396 possession arrests among juveniles in Montgomery County. There were 209 possession arrests and 24 arrests for distribution among Fairfax County juveniles.

"Around here, everyone has money," a Bullis senior says. "Pay a lawyer, pay a fine, and it's done."

In Virginia, adults charged with possession face a maximum of 30 days' incarceration for a first offense and are usually not fined. Some offenders receive probation and community service. The sale of a half ounce or less is a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year jail sentence and $2,500 fine. Distribution of a half ounce up to five pounds, a felony, can mean one to ten years in jail and a $2,500 fine. If tried as a juvenile, youths are referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Anyone convicted of possession in the District can face six months and a $1,000 fine. Distribution of more than a half pound is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail and up to a $50,000 fine.

Soon after one girl started at Churchill, she figured out who the dealers were. "Usually they're the smartest kids . . . and the ones that have the money," she says.

At the meeting with Walter Johnson parents, assistant state's attorney Lynch said teens had been buying drugs near the United Artists movie theater in downtown Bethesda. Officer Burge told the group, "Ninety-nine percent of the time, your kids have the drugs in their car. Look under the dashboard of the car that's registered in your name and parked in your driveway."

A Walter Johnson parent who expects her 16-year-old to leave a party if there's alcohol or marijuana there told other parents she checks her son's backpack and pockets. She also looks in his drawers for money.

"Kids are obvious," Lynch says. "They're not very good criminals. . . . It's easy to find. All you have to do is open your eyes."

Maggie's mom found her pot in a box of Maggie's cigarettes. Maggie was a sophomore at the Edmund Burke School in Northwest DC. Her mom wasn't surprised–she'd been grounding Maggie off and on for months.

Maggie's marijuana habit had picked up in ninth grade. She hotboxed the first time she smoked. She waited a few months to try it again, then started smoking on weekends.

Maggie promised herself she'd never smoke on school nights and would never smoke alone. By the end of tenth grade, she was doing both. Even though she made honor roll, Maggie knew the pot was affecting her schoolwork. She didn't smoke during school or skip classes because she didn't want to get in trouble. Getting high was an escape. She'd been on depression medication on and off for years.

Maggie started going to smoke parties, usually in someone's backyard, when she was a junior. The guests, mostly from Burke and Woodrow Wilson High School, chipped in money to share potent strains of marijuana like Purple Haze and Northern Lights.

Guests rolled joints and blunts; some brought bongs. Sometimes they took turns packing bowls and sent a few around the circle at once–as Maggie passed one, she'd be handed another. People drank, but the parties weren't rowdy. They drove to 7-Eleven for food breaks. There were rules: Maggie usually had to "puff, puff, pass."

Maggie stopped caring who knew. She smoked while she walked down the street in her neighborhood. By the end of her junior year, Maggie had to smoke four bowls, two joints, and a blunt to feel anything. She couldn't fall asleep if she wasn't high.

Teens say there's a difference between a "pothead" and a "stoner." Potheads smoke at least a few times a week. They often look like everyone else. Stoners act high whether they've smoked or not. Sometimes they dress in black or wear hemp clothing. Being a stoner, teens say, is a mentality.

"I hate the word stoner," says Matt, a Whitman senior who smokes every other day. "I function when I smoke. I can do homework and get A's on tests and work in the yard and do just about anything."

Keith says marijuana isn't addictive but acknowledges that it can be habit-forming. He says the question is how you handle it. "You become lazy," he says. "If you can't overcome that, you become consumed by it."

Maggie calls pot "an emotional addiction." She knows a lot of people who smoke before they go to sleep, out of habit.

A 2002 report by the US Department of Health & Human Services found that adults who used marijuana before age 15 were six times more likely to become dependent on another illicit drug than adults who first used the drug when they were 18 or older.

Teens have mixed opinions on the "gateway-drug" theory. Many say they'd never try other drugs. Keith says marijuana is a gateway for some people, but not for him. He tried eating mushrooms once but didn't like them. He laced a bowl with codeine and never did it again. Smoking weed never got old.

John, a Churchill athlete who smokes during the off-season, knows one person who has done ecstasy. He says he'd never do cocaine or use a needle or even chug cough medicine. Most of his friends think those activities are stupid, he says.

Many of the students that Beth Kane Davidson works with at Suburban Hospital's Addiction Treatment Center have a history of marijuana use. Some of her clients are caught at school; others come through the courts. Among high-school students, Davidson says, alcohol and marijuana are "neck and neck."

"The teen using marijuana is a hard client to counsel," says Davidson, who has worked at the center since 1983. "They love to debate. They've done their research. They've looked up legalization."

Among the defenses Davidson hears: There's nothing wrong with it. It relaxes me. I'm a better student. I'm more creative. It's not harming me. I could quit anytime.

Davidson says teens are living in a "supersized world." Fifteen years ago they'd roll a joint and pass it among ten people. Now a few friends share a blunt. When she was growing up, she'd heard of hash brownies; now she sees "green recipes" on the Web that claim to help a blunt burn more slowly.

Davidson's clients include "really good kids from excellent families." They have supervision at home. In those cases, some parents say to Davidson, "I've done everything. How could this have happened?"

Maggie got mad when people tried to prevent her from smoking. She stopped hanging out with a close friend who didn't smoke. She could always find someone to get high with. People knew Maggie as the smartest "stoner girl" in school–she knew all the different types of marijuana. She carried pot and a pipe in her car. She dated guys she smoked with.

Maggie's teachers caught on. Her A's and B's dropped to C's. If Maggie didn't have weed, she'd get all the "shake"–the remnants of marijuana buds–together from the bottom of bags she'd finished.

A friend told Maggie's mom how serious the problem was. Soon Maggie was going to weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Being around other users, she finally felt like people understood her. She got high after meetings.

The last night of summer before her senior year, Maggie and a male friend got pulled over in Bethesda. Her friend thought it would be funny to drive on the wrong side of the road. They were both high. An officer told Maggie he knew they had marijuana in the car and they could make it easy for themselves by telling him where it was. Maggie had a few grams in her bag. Her friend had a few grams next to the driver's seat. Maggie told the police all the pot was hers.

The officer gave them a choice. They could go to the police station and face possession charges or call their parents from the side of the road. When Maggie's mom arrived to pick her up, Maggie started to cry. She knew she was lucky. She hugged her mom and told her, "I'm done."

Quitting wasn't easy. For the first week, Maggie had recurring nightmares that she couldn't breathe. She had to find other ways to handle stress. She started going out for coffee with friends just to talk.

She got A's her senior year. She went to see teachers if she needed help. She had more energy and lost weight. She fought less with her mom. She decided to go to college.

Keith still gets high. He keeps everything he needs in his car: Visine, air freshener, Tic Tacs, gum, extra clothes, a lighter, blunts, and a bottle of Axe, a light spray deodorant he calls "the greatest invention ever. It smells like you might have had cologne on earlier, but you don't reek."

At the beginning of senior year, Keith's mom found one of his pipes, so he had to be more careful. He convinced her that he'd smoked only a few times and said it wasn't a big deal. She grounded him.

Some of Keith's friends stopped blazing so often. After they were cited for drinking, their parents threatened them with what the teens call "piss tests."

Keith says his teammates kept smoking: If they won a game, they shared a blunt to celebrate. If they lost, they blazed to console themselves.

Keith didn't do much homework his senior year. He scored higher than 1200 on his SATs and was admitted to a good college. He decided every day which classes he'd go to. By the end of the year, Keith had smoked with four of his friends' dads.

At graduation, Keith looked around the stage. "One out of every five people I'd either smoked with, sold weed to, or seen high," he says. Some of those students were headed to Ivy League schools. Others weren't going anywhere.

Keith doesn't know if he'll be able to smoke and play sports in college. "That might not fly," he says. He thinks he might have to take a drug test at tryouts. If he needs to, he'll take niacin, a vitamin that's rumored to clear THC from the system. That's what friends have done before drug tests for summer jobs.

Keith doesn't think his parents have caught on. Lying, he says, keeps getting easier. "The things they tell you to look for, like stopping the things you love to do–I never did that," he says. "I kept on it. My grades are good. I'm a nice kid. I never got in trouble. There are no signs pointing to me being a big smoker."

How can you tell if your son or daughter smokes pot?

Here's what teens and other experts say parents should look for.

* Glassy or bloodshot eyes or a sudden need to carry around eye drops.

* Drop in grades, lack of motivation, or unexcused absences at school.

* Extra concern for privacy–a teen doesn't want parents looking in his or her room or car.

* A loss of interest in hobbies and other activities.

* Forgetfulness.

* Significant weight gain or loss.

* A burnt smell on breath or clothing.

* A sense that everything seems funnier than usual.

* The smell of cologne, perfume, or air freshener when you wouldn't expect it.

* The desire to sleep a lot.

* Lots of time spent alone on the computer or playing video games.

* Avoiding interaction, including eye contact, with parents and siblings.

* New friends you haven't heard about.

* Excessive licking of lips and frequent thirst–smoking can cause "cotton mouth."

* Spending more than usual or asking for extra cash.

These organizations and Web sites offer helpful information about marijuana

* American Council for Drug Education (800-488-3784; From the "parents" link, you'll find tips for talking to children about drugs. The list of common parental concerns includes "I don't want to be a hypocrite."

* High Times magazine ( Parents might not like what they read, but they can learn more from here than from anti-drug sources. The publication contains advice about growing marijuana and exercising legal rights with law enforcement.

* Community of Concern (301-656-2481; Started by former Georgetown Preparatory School headmaster James Power and parent Mimi Fleury, this volunteer group's prevention guide for parents has made its way to schools in 26 states. The Web site includes an e-learning course for parents.

* National Institute on Drug Abuse (301-443-1124; Publications available online include "Marijuana: Facts for Teens" and "Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know."

* Parents: the Anti-Drug ( Parents can take a quiz titled "How Well Do You Know Your Teenager?" and get advice on how to start a conversation about drugs.

* Partnership for a Drug-Free America (212-922-1560; Click on "In Your Own Words"–from the "teens" link–to find personal stories about struggles with marijuana and other drugs. Also featured are surveys, fact sheets, and news bulletins.

Facts you might not know about marijuana

* According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana smoke contains more than twice as many cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke.

* Smoking marijuana can reduce nausea and suppress the gag reflex, preventing someone who has had too much to drink from getting sick. This can lead to alcohol poisoning.

* A study by the Department of Health & Human Services found that adults who first used marijuana before age 15 were six times more likely to become dependent on another illicit drug than adults who first used marijuana at age 18 or older.

* A 2002 study by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration found that first-time marijuana use goes up 40 percent in June and July.