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Studies show youth have seen more harm from legal marijuana

Studies show youth have seen the most harm from legal marijuana. (KIMA)

YAKIMA, Wash. (KIMA) - Marijuana has been legal in Yakima County for a couple of years now, but studies show it's had a negative impact on the youth since then.

Dr. Steven Freng said numbers show there have been more auto accidents, cases of addiction and stunted brain development in children since legalization.

Freng works with the Northwest High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and said these problems are because of the lack of public education -- like the dangers of smoking when pregnant, driving while high, and the fact that the legal limit for marijuana consumption is 21 years old.

“Very simple messages that need to be said and people need to understand at a very basic level and it's simply not being communicated in a significant way in Washington right now,” he said.

Freng said schools are now having trouble when deciding how to discipline their students for weed.

He said more and more kids are being caught with pot or under the influence of it. So, suspension or expulsion can no longer be the only answer.

“In some districts are real concerned about possibly a majority of a classroom not being on campus of marijuana behavior or discipline,” Freng said.

Kevin Chase with the Educational Service District 105 said that isn't always the case here in Yakima.

However, he said the state is working on a new set of rules to keep kids in the classroom, rather than kicking them out.

“Even when kids are in trouble, how do you work with them and how do you provide them with educational opportunities to keep them involved? Because when you start expelling kids is when you lose kids,” Chase said.

The presentation also showed there has been an increase in adult treatment for marijuana addiction, but a decrease in resources for youth treatment.

Chase said there used to be programs in school to work with students to get the treatment they need.

But federal budget cuts have dismantled those programs and now centers like Sundown M. Ranch have a bunch of empty beds for kids.

“They have whole wings for kids waiting for kids to get in. Their beds are empty because their connections are gone between schools and treatment,” Chase said.

Freng said there haven't been many negative consequences for adults who legally buy marijuana, but changes must be made to better protect children in Washington state.

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