Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach to host event for parenting in the era of legal cannabis

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Edibles marijuana candies (left) and marijuana flower have been legal for adults since last year, but officials say data on youth usage is not yet clear. Photo by Ryan McDonald

by Ryan McDonald

In November 2016, Hermosa Beach residents backed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use of marijuana by adults in California, by a huge margin. But that doesn’t mean they necessarily want their teenagers lighting up.

On Thursday evening, the city will host a “parent chat” devoted to the impacts of legalized marijuana on teenagers. The event, sponsored by Behavioral Health Services (BHS), a local nonprofit devoted to substance abuse issues, will address pot’s medical effects on kids, relevant laws, and what signs parents should be on the lookout for.

There is not yet enough data to determine whether there has been an increase in youth use of marijuana since the passage of Proposition 64, said Raunda Frank, prevention coordinator with BHS. But she said that the measure has clearly changed how kids perceive the drug.

“A particular risk is that the perception of harm has been lowered with legalization, and smoking marijuana is becoming normalized in our culture,” Frank wrote in an email.

This growing social acceptance, however, has not necessarily resulted in increased criminality. Capt. Milton McKinnon, of the Hermosa Beach Police Department, said that marijuana incidents and citations have declined “dramatically” since 2010. There were fewer than 10 marijuana-related reports in the city last year, said McKinnon, who will be appearing at Thursday’s event.

Although recreational marijuana use is now legal for adults, those under 21 still face legal consequences if caught with the drug, McKinnon said in an email. Those caught with less than an ounce may be issued a citation, while those caught with more than an ounce, or with more than four grams of cannabis concentrate, can be charged with a misdemeanor. Possible penalties include mandatory drug counseling, fines or community service.

The vote on Proposition 64 was the culmination of marijuana’s rapid rise in social acceptance in recent years. Polling indicates that it is increasingly viewed as no more harmful, or even less dangerous, than alcohol. And cannabis has also been buoyed by growing consensus around its therapeutic properties, especially as an alternative to highly addictive pharmaceutical opiates. But peer-reviewed research on the health effects of marijuana has long been limited by federal restrictions on the drug, and health concerns remain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites a study from New Zealand indicating marijuana use may have disproportionate effects on teenagers, including the possibility of harming still-developing brains.

Nikki Wesley, director of student services at the Redondo Beach Unified School District and a speaker at Thursday’s meeting, said that the district has not yet determined whether there has been an overall increase in the use of marijuana among students. She said that there has, however, been an uptick in “vaping,” portable devices that allow users to inhale vaporized oil of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. These devices can resemble lipstick or pens and can be difficult for authorities to detect. They can also come in flavors, which makes them especially attractive to children.

One of the most effective ways for parents to prevent drug abuse by their children, Wesley wrote in an email, is to ensure that they have a good relationship with their kids.

“Parents should get to know their child well so that they can detect atypical behavior. They should listen to their gut and question behavior that is not normal,” she said.

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