Pubdate: Wed, 07 Oct 2015
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2015 The Oregonian


No sooner than 21-and-over Oregonians showed a joyous and happily 
unremarkable debut of the legal sale of recreational pot last week 
than a report was issued Tuesday showing 1 in 3 Multnomah County 
residents aged 18 to 25 used the drug in the past month - higher than 
the rest of the state and the nation.

It would be wrong to infer that Multnomah County's young adults are 
pot heads. But the numbers are significant in that a portion of the 
so-called young people represented in government health surveys were 
under the age of 21 and engaged in illegal consumption of pot at 
rates above state and national levels. But that's just the legal end of it.

If the numbers hold - the report's data years ended in 2012 - the 
health implications for adolescents are more worrisome and underscore 
a challenge now before the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, at work 
refining rules to regulate the promotion and sale of recreational 
marijuana in such a way that protects young Oregonians from being 
enticed by the drug. The human brain grows and develops, typically, 
through age 25.

Noelle Crombie of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported on the findings, 
among them that two-thirds of Multnomah County 11th-graders said it 
would be easy to buy pot and a like number saying pot was easier to 
buy than cigarettes. Moreover, cannabis consumption among young 
adults was found to have spiked from 25 percent in 2003-2004 to 32 
percent in 2010-2012. There's no telling what the numbers are today, 
now that recreational pot is legal for adults.

The impact of cannabis consumption upon the developing adolescent 
brain is a squirrelly subject. Federal prohibition of the drug has 
choked funding for comprehensive research. Yet health professionals 
have become increasingly ardent in their assertions that pot can 
damage young people.

Dr. Krista Lisdahl, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology 
lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, last year cited a study 
that tracked subjects from birth to age 38 and found that those who'd 
become addicted to pot could lose an average of six IQ points by 
adulthood. Significantly, she was joined by other psychologists at 
the conference of the American Psychological Association who argued 
frequent marijuana use among teenagers and young adults could be 
implicated in cognitive decline, and poor memory and attention.

Deeper research could substantiate or repudiate the assertions. But 
Multnomah County's health officer, Dr. Paul Lewis, was spot-on in 
telling Crombie: "We are not necessarily holding ourselves to the 
highest standard of proof, but because it's youth, we want to be very 
cautious even if we don't know the consequences." Later this year and 
early next, the county will wisely post public health messages on 
marijuana's potential risks on billboards.

Prohibition of recreational marijuana for adults was a costly error 
for too many years, pushing otherwise law-abiding Oregonians into 
criminal behavior accommodated by an unregulated black market. The 
passage of Measure 91 to allow the legal sale of recreational pot to 
adults was correct. But the numbers showing Multnomah County teens 
using pot at higher rates than the rest of the state and the country 
warrant hard attention. The drug has been easy to get and, now, with 
adults buying recreational pot legally from potentially more than 100 
outlets in Portland and up to 300 statewide, extra care to protect 
young people must be a first priority.

The Oregon Health Authority, which oversees Oregon's medical 
marijuana program, already requires dispensaries to post pot's 
potential risks to women who are pregnant or nursing and urges that 
clients keep their pot locked up and away from children. The OLCC, 
meanwhile, does not exist to modify underage behavior. But it can and 
must mandate a robust outreach to dissuade the under-21 crowd from 
illegally obtaining and smoking pot. Among other things, that means 
communicating potential risks at the point of retail sale, where 
adult buyers can receive and carry the message home along with their weed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom