Anti-marijuana course still going strong in Janesville

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Monday, January 10, 2011
Dear Marijuana,
I have mixed feelings bout you. ...I have tried to quit, but then I don't want to.
I have been smoking since I was 12 years old, and I don't really realize how much I actually smoke.
I want to say I can quit, but in my heart I know I won't. So yeah, I don't know how I feel about you at this point in time.
—From a Janesville student's class assignment during the Delta-9 course, taught and created by Carrie Kulinski

Carrie Kulinski knows it's an uphill battle.

She teaches the dangers of marijuana in a culture that often winks at pot smokers.

She knows that both locally and nationwide, the illegal weed is second only to alcohol in its popularity among young people.

Kulinski works with some of the Janesville School District's most at-risk students, including those who were expelled or have been chronically truant. Even so, she has made an impact.

Many students who were sure they were smoking a harmless plant aren't so sure anymore. Some have considered going straight after experiencing the anti-marijuana course that Kulinski created.

Kulinski notes that no long-term study has been done on her former students' habits, but each time she surveys them at the end of her course, at least some indicate their thinking about pot has changed.

It all started five years ago. Kulinski had heard repeatedly from the district's health teachers that students were asking to learn more about marijuana.

But the school district's anti-drug curriculum focused mainly on alcohol.

So Kulinski created her own curriculum.

She named it Delta-9 after the name for marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, delta-9–tetrahydrocannabinol.

Gazette readers first heard of Kulinski's efforts in 2007.

The headline over the article, "Weed whacker," has stuck. Friends call her "WW."

While some found the name disrespectful for such a serious topic, Kulinski takes it in good humor.

The Gazette article also made her well-known in the drug-prevention community. Turns out, very few anti-marijuana courses exist. So when someone does an Internet search for marijuana curriculums, one of the first to pop up is Delta-9.

The course she created has been sold to 54 anti-drug programs across Wisconsin and as far away as an Army base in Hawaii.

At $200 a pop, the sales aren't doing much for the school district's budget, but each dollar subsidizes the district's CRES Academy, a small charter school that helps students who are returning to the district after going through drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

She has also taught others across the state how to deliver Delta-9, at $100 an hour.

Kulinski holds a master's degree in counseling and is licensed for social work and counseling. Early in her career, she worked third-shift detox for Parkside Lodge, a drug/alcohol treatment center later bought out by Mercy Health System.

She joined the Janesville School District as its coordinator of programs that focus on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in 1999. The position expanded over the years but remains part time.

She oversaw the creation of district ATODA committee, and that group put together a drug-education plan for the district. It was one of the first in the nation to have such a comprehensive plan with elements coordinated from elementary through high school, she said.

Kulinski also coordinates the CRES Academy and teaches Delta-9 at Rock River Charter School and the Truancy Abatement and Transitional Education Center.

She tells students she's not there to brainwash them. She just wants them to learn the facts, and it's up to them to decide how to respond.

"Most students don't feel marijuana is harmful," she said. "You know, ‘It's a harmless plant.'"

That attitude has become more widespread over the past five years, she said, probably because the drug has become more accepted in the culture.

And that's probably why youthful marijuana use has increased, she said.

The latest national study shows marijuana use among high school seniors increased from 33 percent to 35 percent from 2009 to 2010. Use among 10th-graders edged up one percentage point, to 29 percent. Among eighth-graders, use went up two points, to 14 percent.

Local trends generally mirror the national numbers, Kulinski said.

Kulinski said she likes her students to challenge her, and many take her up on that. She responds with the latest research, including scans that show brains of marijuana users working harder to overcome the drug's effects.

She tells them that the brains of chronic users work 40 percent to 50 percent slower than non-stoners. She tells them their brains aren't fully developed until age 25.

And it doesn't take much to get students to agree that pot affects short-term memory or to understand that the smoke can damage the lungs.

"It's never dull when I teach a Delta-9 class, especially when they're users. But I like that," she said.

Kulinski noticed while teaching that students talked about marijuana as if they had a personal relationship with it. So she asks them, halfway through the course, to write a letter to the drug. Some don't write much.

Dear Ganja,
Why did you have to come into my life? You can get me into a lot of trouble. I need to stop smoking you.
Farewell, goodbye.

Kulinski's job has always depended on grants. The latest one runs out in June. She is fairly confident the state will renew the grant, but until she gets the notification, she has to worry that she could be out of a job.

Meanwhile, Kulinski has a new idea: She's working with teachers of high school marketing students to create promotional materials to get the word out about Delta-9 to potential customers.

"I don't see going out and paying for this when we have talented students right here in our district who can do it," she said.

Kulinski also is hoping Delta-9 will be adopted for use in Rock County's underage-violators program.

And she's considering writing a book based on those letters. Working title: "Dear Mary Jane."

Dear Marijuana;
You have destroyed my life. ...My dad loves you and not me. ...Once, I found you under my dad's couch, and I flushed you down the toilet. My dad quit talking to me for months. You got me high when I was 8 years old. My dad and I smoked you in the truck. I went home and fell down the stairs. ...
Dad shared you with one of his friends. Thanks to you, that friend molested me. He kept doing this. I told my dad, and thanks to you, he blamed it on me. ...I'm always living my life in fear that you will come back and destroy everything.
Why can't you just stay away forever?
I hate you!

Last updated: 4:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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