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BBC Northern Ireland's Mervyn Jess
In some cases, parents are content that their children are using cannabis and not harder drugs
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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 15:49 GMT
Cannabis rife in the schoolyard

Schoolchildren say cannabis is no problem compared to alcohol
Schoolchildren as young as ten or 11 years of age are smoking cannabis according to a teacher and drugs awareness worker in west Belfast.

Gerry Ruddy, a teacher at Corpus Christi secondary school, said the increase in the use of cannabis had led to the drug becoming part of the youth culture.

"Five or ten years ago drugs were barely mentioned - now it's fairly widespread in the culture of kids," he said.

"Teachers throughout Belfast, throughout the north of Ireland are facing this problem more and more - it's not something we particularly want to face but it's a reality."

He said schoolchildren who smoked "blow" or cannabis often did so with the consent of their parents who were satisfied because their children were not using harder drugs such as ecstasy or cocaine.

"There have been experiences when parents have openly condoned the smoking of dope - maybe they do it themselves.

We're now seeing that young people are taking cannabis at perhaps ten or 11 years of age

Sean Paul O'Hare
"It's not so much a school problem or an education problem as society's problem."

He said adults were finding it difficult to stamp down on the problem because school children were defending their habit.

"They think it's okay to take it and when I talk to them about it, they say 'Aw come on sir, sure adults drink and get violent, we take blow and we don't cause any trouble."

Sean Paul O'Hare is a worker with Drugs Awareness for Youth, a west Belfast based organisation.

Sean Paul O'Hare: Concerned with good health of young people - not the legalisation of cannabis debate
"We're now seeing that young people are taking cannabis at perhaps ten or 11 years of age.

"We're also seeing a very serious problem in that young people have been taking it since they were 13 or 14 years of age, they're experiencing severe problems when they're 16 or 17."

He said his organisation was not interested in the debate about the legalisation of cannabis but was mainly concerned with the good health practices of the area's young people.

"People are looking in these areas and saying 'If it's not a needle or heroin, it's okay, it's only blow'.

"That is a highly dangerous attitude to take because it creates a tolerance.

"What is it going to be the next time - ecstasy?"

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