Tackling Rising Underage Cannabis Consumption in Berrien County

July 3rd, 2024 Safety & Education
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The Berrien County Health Department has launched a new campaign aimed at curbing the rising trend of underage cannabis use in the area. With targeted ads planned for multiple social media platforms, the department is reinforcing the message that cannabis use is illegal for individuals under the age of 21. The campaign highlights the risks associated with early cannabis use, including the potential for addiction and exacerbation of mental health issues.

Recent data from the 2021-2022 school year reveals that 28% of high school students in Berrien County have experimented with cannabis. Officials believe these numbers have likely increased in subsequent years. Lisa Peeples-Hurst, the Public Health Promotion and Prevention Supervisor at the Berrien County Health Department, emphasized the importance of addressing underlying issues rather than using substances as a coping mechanism. "The real issues that may be occurring still need to be tackled once the high wears off," Peeples-Hurst said. "It's crucial to educate students and parents about the heightened mental health component."

A significant concern is the source of cannabis for these minors. The health department suspects that while legalization has increased access, most underage users do not obtain cannabis directly from licensed dispensaries. Instead, they acquire it through other means. Peeples-Hurst mentioned that youth referred to the department through the juvenile court or pre-arrest diversion programs often obtain cannabis from non-commercial sources. "The good thing is we don't hear a lot about kids buying vapes," she noted.

Jorden Peterson, Floor Manager at the ReLeaf Center in Niles, confirmed that stringent checks are in place to prevent underage customers from entering their store. He acknowledged the possibility of adults purchasing cannabis for minors and emphasized the importance of ensuring that cannabis remains with the purchaser. "We are working hard to make sure this stuff stays with the person who buys it and leaves here properly," Peterson said.

Health professionals urge parents to discuss the risks of cannabis use with their children at an early age. According to Peeples-Hurst, the age of first substance use in Berrien County is alarmingly low, starting at just 11 years old. "We cannot wait until high school to get these messages out; we have to start sooner. We are currently reaching out to fifth graders in Berrien County classrooms," she stated.

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