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Will Recreational Cannabis Legalization Have A Big Impact on Teen Usage?

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Will recreational cannabis legalization have a big impact on usage among teens? 

That’s a topic of discussion at an upcoming summit hosted by the Tazewell Teen Initiative. The 2018 Illinois Youth Survey shows 34 percent of Tazewell County high school seniors said they used marijuana in the past year.

About 19 percent of Tazewell seniors said they drove high at least once in the past year, more than the seven percent who said they drove under the influence of alcohol. 

More 12th grade teens (19 percent) report driving after smoking marijuana than drinking alcohol (7 percent) in Tazewell County. That trend also holds in Peoria and Woodford counties to a lesser degree. The vast majority of teenagers in all three counties report never drinking or using cannabis and getting behind the wheel. 

A 2014 study from the National Institutes of Health suggested cannabis usage has a negative effect on the developing adolescent brains, potentially leading to "long-lasting cognitive impairments."

The same study noted cannabis also offers potential medical benefits for some suffering from conditions like glaucoma, chronic pain, epilepsy and multiple scleroisis, but said more research is still needed into the potential negative health consequences of usage. 

Tazewell County Health Department spokesperson Sara Sparkman said the youth perception of cannabis has shifted in recent years. 

“In the last several years, marijuana has increased, and also the perception of harm from marijuana has decreased," she said. 

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics suggested that youth recreational usage of cannabis may actually decrease after legalization for adults.

The study suggested it becomes more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as black market drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries required to check identification. 

Sparkman said she's seen the JAMA study, but said medical professionals from states with legalized cannabis at conferences she has attended report said youth use of pot increased after legalization. 

“You know, every study, there’s a counterstudy, so we’ll just have to see what happens with Illinois," she said. 

The bill signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker allows people ages 21 or over to purchase up to 30 grams of cannabis flower legally starting January 1.

The Tazewell Teen Initiative Breakfast is set for August 6 at the Clock Tower Building in East Peoria's Levee District from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. In addition to a presentation of Youth Survey statistics and a discussion on the impacts of the recreational legalization law, a panel of Tazewell County Youth Board members will talk about drug usage. Registration is required.