Marijuana and its effects on teens topic of Tuesday gathering in Chimacum

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

CHIMACUM — Marijuana may be legal now for Washington state adults, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for teens, according to a group planning a presentation on the effects of the drug on youngsters.

“We want to get as much information out as possible so people know more about the new laws,” said Chimacum High School principal Whitney Meissner, chairwoman of the Chimacum Prevention Coalition.

The coalition is sponsoring the event from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m Tuesday at Chimacum High School’s library at 91 West Valley Road.

Coalition members will discuss their plans for the upcoming year, and Sgt. Mike Graddon of the Des Moines Police Department will speak about marijuana and teens.

“There are a lot of effects that kids don’t know about,” said Graddon, who travels the state giving presentations about the impact of marijuana use.

“In the long term, they can end up with cognitive defects because a teenager’s brain isn’t fully developed,” he said.

Voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012, which legalized recreational marijuana use by adults.

While marijuana use by anyone under 21 is still illegal, the initiative’s passage sends a signal that use of the drug is acceptable and that could lead young people to think it is OK for them, forum organizers say.

“The effects of marijuana on the developing brain are a lot more complicated than a lot of people realize,” said Kelly Matlock, community organizer and health educator at Jefferson County Public Health.

“Our mission is to delay or prevent people from using marijuana or drugs.”

Data collected by Washington state during a 2012 Healthy Youth Survey indicated that the Chimacum School District had higher than average levels in marijuana use, binge drinking and bullying.

The district received a grant from the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative, which helps to fund a full-time drugs/alcohol counselor at Chimacum High School, Meissner said.

The Healthy Youth Survey was a collaborative effort of the state departments of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Health, the Social and Health Service’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, Commerce and the state Liquor Control Board.

According to the survey, 29.8 percent of those surveyed in Chimacum believed there was no harm from marijuana use, 11 percent more than the state average.

The idea that marijuana can cause no harm is incorrect, according to Graddon.

Graddon acknowledges that telling teens not to smoke or drink can be a hard sell.

“We want to use some risk-reduction techniques to help them make better decisions,” he said.

One area of high risk has to do with marijuana edibles, loaded sweets that are more potent than young people might expect, Graddon said.

“Kids don’t realize the content and duration of edibles,” he said.

“They are used to smoking, where they take one puff and have an instant effect that peaks after 20 or 30 minutes and then goes away.”

Since it can take several hours for edibles to take effect, young people might eat more than they should because they don’t think the drug is working, he said.

Edible overdoses can cause conditions that require emergency treatment.

That leads to another issue, Graddon said.

Young people, he said, are reluctant to call in authorities if they think they’ll get in trouble.

Good Samaritan laws dictate that anyone who calls for medical help for someone in distress can’t be prosecuted for possession of a substance, he said.

In the long run, Meissner said the coalition isn’t completely focused on drug knowledge or treatment.

“We want to give people information so they can raise healthy and happy families,” she said.

“We hope to involve parents, teachers, counselors, police officers, health care professionals and anyone else who has a vested interest in kids.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 25. 2014 9:51PM
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