Protecting our children in the new marijuana world

The OlympianJuly 10, 2014 

The brave new world of state-regulated recreational marijuana retail sales began this week. For the first time in the state of Washington’s history, adults can purchase marijuana for private, non-medical use – and do it legally.

Those who advocated to end the era of marijuana prohibition will celebrate this historic moment. But other people worry whether more of today’s potent marijuana will find its way into the possession of people under the age of 21, for whom it remains illegal.

If the recent underage alcohol sales compliance check by the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Target Zero Task Force is any indication, we should be worried.

During a check of 30 Tumwater locations licensed to sell beer, wine and spirits, undercover operatives were able to purchase alcoholic beverages at 12, or 40 percent. That’s shameful. The state Liquor Control Board, which can discipline repeat offenders and suspend their licenses, should monitor those stores closely.

The LCB should apply an equally rigorous scrutiny to the state’s new pot retailers. Such a high violation rate by pot retailers could easily derail the entire marijuana legalization movement.

Of course, even vigilant retailer sellers haven’t stopped teens from getting beer. There are always irresponsible and willing adults around who will buy booze for kids.

It’s apparently no different in the world of marijuana. A study conducted among Colorado teens in substance abuse treatment programs, found that 74 percent of them got their pot from people with medical marijuana certificates.

The best method of keeping marijuana, and other substances, out of our children’s hands is still education.

Young people must be told in an effective way about the dangers of marijuana to brain development, addiction and mental health issues. “Reefer Madness”-type scare tactics won’t work. Sensible anti-tobacco-style campaigns do work.

Voters approved Initiative 502 partly because it mandated that 60 percent of the new revenues from the state’s marijuana market be dedicated to substance-abuse prevention programs, and marijuana-related research, education and health care. Only 40 percent goes to the state’s general fund.

For the sake of our kids, the Legislature must keep it hands off that money.

Unfortunately, legislators didn’t set aside any money this year to a launch pot prevention campaign in advance of marijuana stores opening, and no tax money will flow into state coffers until sales get underway. Kudos to Gov. Jay Inslee for directing the state Department of Health to divert $400,000 of its existing budget to get a campaign underway – it’s a little late, but better than never.

Of course, parents must play an important role in educating their children about marijuana, and that includes keeping any edibles at home securely out of their reach. Colorado experienced a surge of hospital visits by children who accidentally ate pot-laced treats.

Part of our responsibility for leading the nation in recreational marijuana involves keeping it out of the hands of underage people. That must be one of our highest priorities.

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