The District’s commission charged with studying the problems of males in the city recently met to discuss how substance abuse is negatively impacting the lives of boys and men. The discussion is one of many being held to form an action plan early next year. The goal is to provide solutions to many of the situations that plague men and boys in D.C.

The District’s Commission on Fathers, Men, and Boys met June 29 at the Wheatley Education Campus in Ward 5. Tony Dugger, executive director of the commission, said the use of marijuana in the District is at a high level and that has an adverse impact on the lives of the city’s male population.

“We are in a city where many, many people use cannabis,” Dugger said to an audience of 20 people. “We have decriminalized marijuana in this city and there is now access to medical marijuana. Marijuana is a problem for Black men in D.C.

“Many Black men have problems passing employment drug tests because of the marijuana in their system. We know that Black men have the skills to perform in the job market but we need to do make sure that they are drug free.”

The commission was established in 2014 by the D.C. Council to address issues such as substance abuse. Other areas explored include improving educational outcomes for males, their employment prospects, and their interactions with law enforcement.

With the legalization of marijuana spreading across the country this year, George Garrow, chairman of the commission said, “Marijuana use is placed these days in the category of alcohol.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Health have published

a brochure, “Marijuana Facts for Teens,” that says one in six people who start using marijuana and 25-50 percent of those who use it every day become addicted.” Numerous studies show casual marijuana use has adverse effects on the body and mind and impairs judgment and motor skills.

Alcohol abuse is also a problem for men in the District. The District of Columbia Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released by the District’s Department of Health in 2012, shows that more middle school students reported current use of alcohol (13 percent) than marijuana (9 percent). The report also said more middle and high school students used marijuana than tobacco products.

Even so, the substance that concerns many District officials is synthetic drugs. Synthetic drugs, colloquially known as Scooby Snax, Spice, K2, and Bizarro, aren’t scientifically tested as products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; therefore the contents and their safety have been questionable to many health and government officials.

During the meeting, there was a panel discussion of community and government leaders who are well-acquainted with the negative affect that substance abuse has on men of color in the District. Juanita Price, CEO of the Hillcrest Children & Family Center on Rhode Island Avenue, said substance abusers have problems finding and keeping jobs. “Many workplaces will not employ anyone who is using drugs,” Price said. “That is why both the federal and District laws mandate that drug testing for businesses that contract with them and/or do any type of interaction with government.”

According to Charles Thornton, director of the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens, about 57 percent of residents enrolled in the District’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency have tested positive for marijuana use. “Synthetic marijuana is not different from PCP and it is just as bad. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous because you can become a zombie from it,” he said.

Price said the push to legitimize marijuana in the District isn’t coming from Black people. “It is middle-class Whites who are professionals that support marijuana legalization,” she said. “This is part of the national campaign to support the marijuana industry. The majority of the people in favor of decriminalization are White, many of them White women.”

Tristan Wilkerson, a member of the commission and a millennial, said the panelists and some of his commission members are missing the point. “Kids and young people don’t think that smoking marijuana is inherently bad,” she said. “Substance abuse needs to be addressed as a public health issue and the focus should be on healing, rather than one of public safety.”