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Youth and Cannabis 

A conversation with Paige McGowan, the Spokane Regional Health District's youth marijuana prevention and education coordinator

click to enlarge Paige McGowan
  • Paige McGowan

INLANDER: After a few years of legalization, what are some things that we know about legal marijuana's impact on public health?

We know that we have a lot more questions and things that we still need to learn more about. We've seen an increase in calls to the poison centers for kids getting their hands on marijuana products. We've also seen an increase to poison centers for people over the age of 17. We've seen an increase in people driving under the influence. We've seen an increase in the number of students who are being caught with marijuana at school and therefore suspended for possession or consumption.

There was a recent federal study that showed teen marijuana use in Washington and Colorado has actually dipped since legalization. Is that not consistent with what we've seen here, locally?

We're relying on 2017 Healthy Youth Survey data because the first snapshot of data we got (in 2014) after legalization was right after the first stores opened. So our environment hadn't changed yet. We didn't have billboards like we do now. We didn't have retail stores. Our convenience stores weren't selling marijuana paraphernalia like they are now. So to say anything about that is a little premature still. But we'll know more in March or April when the data comes out.

What do people need to know about edibles and vape pens that they may not hear from their budtender?

We emphasize if you have them at home, store them safe and out of sight.

Vape pens have been known to explode, catch fire and cause injury. Even more so, the product that people use in them — usually liquid nicotine — is poisonous, and it can also burn you.

Have school officials you've talked to had any concern about edibles or vape pens being easier for kids to hide from teachers?

Absolutely. It's really hard to detect ... You can have bracelets that contain liquid nicotine or contain marijuana. I've seen all kinds of different concealment trends, like pop cans that look just like a regular pop can. Instead of Dasani water bottles, they look like a water bottle. I've had teachers tell me that they pick up a water bottle, think it's totally normal, put it aside and then learn that you can actually unscrew it.

What's the biggest concern, moving forward, for cannabis in our community?

If we're going to have a legal rec marijuana market, we need to protect youth from accessing marijuana. And that takes a community. That takes all of our retailers. It takes our parents. It takes our schools. It takes every person to recognize that if this substance is going to be legal, we need to make sure that the vulnerable people in our community, our little ones, don't use it. ♦

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