COSTA MESA — Many of the 600 Costa Mesa Middle School students wore red shirts Thursday in recognition of Red Ribbon Week, an anti-drug movement born in the Just Say No 1980s.
The annual demonstration fell days before voters will decide on Proposition 19, which would decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults older than 21.
"They can legalize it," said Nabeel Salamen, 12, a seventh-grader, "but it's going to be people's choice then to [make] their life worse."
The middle schoolers said they've been taught about the pitfalls of drug abuse.
Hanna Filner, 12, a seventh-grader, cringed at the thought of her healthy lungs turning black, as they were in the photographs that were brought into the classroom.
And Kelsi Kusman, another seventh-grader, said she has seen commercials and videos on methamphetamine addicts who "shake" and "look crazy."
"Drugs are bad for you," she said. "It's just a bad idea. We're never going to do it."
The sentiment at the adjacent high school, however, reflected the disagreement statewide on whether it makes sense to legalize and tax the drug or just restrict it to medicinal uses.
In Sandie Soldin's U.S. government class, for example, students have been debating the pros and cons of all of the propositions on the ballot, but the proposed marijuana law has gotten the most scrutiny.
"Most of my kids think that it's a good idea to legalize it," she said. "But that was before the presentations. They were thinking, 'Ooh, ah, I can smoke marijuana and it will be really cool, but they weren't really reading the proposition."
School district officials have sent a message of their own, firmly in opposition to Proposition 19.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education recently voted to oppose legalizing marijuana.
Whatever the outcome of the proposition, it's not going to have much of an effect on the enforcement at public schools, said John Gates, Costa Mesa High School's school resource officer.
"Anybody under 21 won't be allowed to possess it or buy it," said Gates, a Costa Mesa police officer. "And it's certainly not going to be allowed on high school campus."