The Columbian / Associated Press

No upswing seen in marijuana use among youths

o Is marijuana dragging us down?

o New Vansterdam sharpens security measures

Minor in possession of alcohol

2009: 519

2010: 417

2011 : 351

2012 : 422

2013: 342

2014: 317

2015: 200*

Minor in possession of marijuana

2009: 243

2010: 308

2011: 346

2012 : 63

2013: 217

2014: 245

2015: 154*

Referrals of all kinds to juvenile court

2009: 3,089

2010: 2,849

2011: 2,697

2012: 2,388

2013: 1,828

2014: 1,936

2015 : ,232*

Misdemeanor marijuana-related crimes have plummeted for adults following legalization, but for minors, marijuana is still very much illegal. Marijuana use among children is relatively flat, though children referred to court on suspicion of possessing marijuana went up slightly from 2013 to 2014.

“I wouldn’t put a cause and effect there,” said Eric Gilman, program manager at Clark County Juvenile Court.

The numbers are small to begin with — a couple hundred offenses — making it difficult to discern a trend. Over the past decade, there’s been a decline in crimes such as minor in possession of marijuana or alcohol. Then again, referrals to juvenile court have been going down across the nation since 1999, Gilman said. In 2009, Clark County Juvenile Court received 3,089 referrals. Over the next five years, the number of referrals went down about 37 percent.

“No one has the magic answers as to why that has happened,” he said.

In the juvenile justice system, there’s been a lot of research and use of evidence-based programming that may be helping drive the decline in youth-involved crimes, Gilman said. Research recognizes that youths who commit crimes have often experienced trauma and might self medicate through drugs. Clark County has intensive programs such as Juvenile Recovery Court, where youths struggling with substance abuse go to court weekly to talk about their progress.

From the local court’s standpoint, marijuana use among youths is stable.

“It hasn’t gone way down. It hasn’t gone way up,” said Tim Oberheide, who reviews police reports received by Juvenile Court.

Most commonly, youths are found in possession of marijuana at school, at home or through some other contact with law enforcement.

“With marijuana, there’s no real sense that it’s easily accessible,” Oberheide said. “We’re not seeing some big upswing, that there’s this rash of kids smoking marijuana.”

Marijuana stores are limited to people 21 and older, and employees are supposed to check IDs at the door. Oberheide compares the shops to the old liquor stores that required ID. When alcohol was privatized and began being sold in grocery stores, he noticed an uptick in the number of juvenile shoplifting cases involving liquor. After stores moved the liquor displays away from the front door, and some put locks on liquor, there were fewer thefts.

Healthy Youth Survey

The 2014 Healthy Youth Survey published by the state Department of Social and Health Services found that while alcohol and other drug use went down, marijuana use is unchanged. Last fall, 223,000 students at schools around Washington, including 15,626 Clark County middle and high school students, were surveyed about their health behaviors.

For the most part, local students are reflective of statewide trends.

Seven percent of eighth-graders, 18 percent of 10th-graders and 27 percent of 12th-graders reported using marijuana in the past month. Nearly half of Clark County high school seniors have tried marijuana at least once. Most students, like most marijuana users, smoke marijuana rather than ingest it or vaporize it, the survey said.

Unlike what Oberheide has heard, most of the surveyed 10th- and 12th-graders think it’s easy to get marijuana. The majority of users get it from their friends. Two percent of eighth-graders, 3 percent of 10th-graders and 4 percent of 12th-graders said they used marijuana on school property in the past month.

Fewer students think it’s risky to use marijuana regularly. Last year, 46 percent of 12th-graders surveyed said it’s not harmful to use marijuana, compared with 36 percent in 2012.

Most surveyed students believe their parents, peers and community perceive marijuana use as wrong, though older students are less likely to say that. A slightly smaller percentage of students perceived marijuana use as wrong in 2014 (after legalization) than in 2012. Statewide, students are less likely to use marijuana if they believe the people around them think it’s wrong for them to use, the survey said.

When posters with the Healthy Youth Survey data were put up around Washougal High School, some of Bridgette McCarthy’s peers said the findings were inaccurate. They were saying, ‘Oh, everybody drinks, everybody smokes,’” McCarthy said.

“When something is legal, it makes it so that the whole community thinks it’s ‘safe,’ but it really isn’t. It’s putting that norm out there,” she said.

The 15-year-old is a member of Strong Teens Against Substance Hazards and Abuse, through which she’s learned about the impact marijuana can have on youths. The brain doesn’t fully develop until people are 25, so young users are changing their brains, McCarthy said.

Though she doesn’t have any friends who use marijuana, she’s worried how the drug may change her peers’ lives.

“We didn’t get to say whether we wanted (marijuana legalization) or not, yet we’re part of the system that’s being affected,” McCarthy said.

Lingering concern

When I-502 was on the table, state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, was vocally opposed to it.

“I’m still not crazy about the legalization of this drug,” she said. “I just don’t see how it’s going to end well.”

Pike said she didn’t want the black market to thrive, but she was surprised by how large the legal industry was once it took root. Her chief concern is young folks stifling career avenues by using marijuana.

“That is what I worry about the most, that they’re closing great income opportunities, great career opportunities because they’re choosing to be high,” Pike said.

Many careers require workers to be drug-free or be tested for drugs, and marijuana users may be limiting their career choices, she said. If today’s youths struggle with securing well-paying jobs, the community will pay for it down the road through increased social service costs. She hopes parents talk with their children about marijuana.

“Children are making this choice that’s going to affect the rest of their lives,” Pike said.