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Think of the Children 

Pot is legal. That doesn't mean more kids are smoking it; it also doesn't mean they should

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Acceptance of marijuana is growing — like a weed, some might say. As we get further and further away from that fateful day in July 2014 when the first weed shop in Spokane opened its doors, smoking, vaping and ingesting marijuana gets more and more normal. Some are concerned that kind of thinking will waft into the minds of youths.

Although the latest statistics on whether kids these days have more access to marijuana and are using it more don't show much change since pot was legalized, there is evidence to suggest that their attitudes are changing.

Additionally, there is some research indicating detrimental effects of recreational use of the drug on young, developing brains, but even then, direct correlation is elusive.

Every two years, the Washington Department of Health conducts the Healthy Youth Survey, designed to gauge the biggest health issues facing kids.

According to survey data from 2010, 26 percent of Spokane County high school sophomores thought there was little or no risk to using marijuana regularly. In the 2014 survey, after voters approved I-502 and it went into effect, that number jumped to 36 percent. (Statewide data shows a similar increase, from 27 to 34 percent for that same time period.)

However, the number of 10th graders in Spokane County who said they had used marijuana within the past 30 days remained about the same.

Sam Calvert, owner and operator of Green Star Cannabis in Spokane, estimates that he boots three to four underage kids out of his store per week.

"But access to the black market has not gone away," Calvert says. "Every October and November you'll see crops coming up from California and Oregon, and some from Washington and British Columbia."

Calvert says he has invited schoolteachers into his shop so they know what to look (and smell) for.

"These products should not be used for recreational purposes by young people," he says. "They have the same access they've always had, but they're not getting it at retail, not from the ones I consider ethical at least."

Research on how marijuana affects young minds has linked teen marijuana use to poor school performance and higher school dropout rates. However, a definitive causal relationship is yet to be shown, and the science is far from settled.

For example, a long-term study in New Zealand concluded that people who smoked pot in their teens scored lower on IQ tests later in life. Another study from Norway challenged that conclusion, and suggested that socioeconomic factors could have played a role in IQ loss.

Regardless of the research, it's undeniable that a teenager's time spent smoking weed is time that could have been spent not smoking weed. That's why Kim Papich, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District, says it's important to make clear that weed is not safe for youths. ♦

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