Since January 2016, 10 cases of marijuana possession cases by children under the age of 13 have emerged

When Measure 91 passed in November 2014 legalizing recreational marijuana for personal possession and consumption as well as commercial sales, government officials in Prineville and other communities spent the next few months developing laws concerning where cannabis retail outlets would be allowed and considering whether commercial sales would be allowed at all.

City staff completed a land-use overlay that established where pot stores could go — then chose not to allow commercial sales unless the federal government decriminalized the drug.

The decision to ban commercial sales in Prineville was far from unanimous, with proponents of sales believing that allowing sales would benefit certain citizens who struggle with pain or post traumatic stress disorder, and that it would reduce black market sales. Those voting against legal sales in Prineville argue that it makes the community less safe and results in more kids getting their hands on the drug.

Now, new data from the Crook County District Attorney's Office reveals that more children are ending up in possession of pot regardless of whether you can buy it at a local store for recreational use or not. In 2015, 47 cases of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana were handled by the District Attorney's Office. Of those, 12 involved kids under the age of 18, and none involved kids 13 or younger. But, since January 2016, when commercial sale of the drug was made legal in Oregon, the numbers of risen dramatically for youth possession. Of the 49 cases of possession, 30 were under the age of 18 and 10 cases involved kids younger than 13.

District Attorney Daina Vitolins expected a difference in the number because of Measure 91, but the number of kids with pot under the age of 13 shocked her.

One solution, she says, is for adults who obtain marijuana by legal means to treat it like another alcohol or any prescription drug — keep it locked up and out of the reach of children. Community leaders are also mounting educational campaigns to encourage people to keep marijuana secure from youth.

We urge people to take this message to heart and not allow marijuana to go the way of alcohol and tobacco products. Local health officials have long struggled to curb youth alcohol use and smoking because the community has treated its use by teens with a bit of a wink or a shrug. If a community goes down that path, it will difficult to come back — just ask the people trying slow down teen drinking and smoking.

We further urge citizens on each side of the legal pot sales debate to get involved and help get this problem under control before it worsens. Opponents of legal sales feared that retail pot stores would result in more youth use, and although people have to go to Bend or Madras to get it, it seems their fears have been proven true. On the flip side, proponents of the drug need to prove that allowing the sale of pot in Prineville will not put kids at risk. Slowing this problem down and being vigilant about keeping it away from kids would strengthen their argument that the benefits outweigh the risks. And, of course, we all want to keep our kids safe.

So if you have marijuana in the home, keep it locked up, and whether you use cannabis or not, do what you can to create a culture in Prineville that treats pot with more than a wink.

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