Sheriff's office: Marijuana-laced treats can trick youth

Parents should talk to kids about potential danger, commander says

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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photoAlthough not as common, tea can be laced with marijuana.

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After years of heading the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force, sheriff's Cmdr. Mike Cooke knows that a cupcake or other home-baked treat could be laced with a drug.

He points to one case in November 2012 that involved a student at Union High School who was sent to the hospital after unknowingly eating a brownie that contained either "spice," a synthetic marijuana, or "bath salts," a designer drug with effects similar to cocaine.

Another case Cooke finds disturbing is that of a marijuana brownie distribution operation that students at Columbia Adventist Academy in Battle Ground were running. Clark County sheriff's deputies disrupted the ring in January.

As a father of two teens, Cooke wants to make sure other parents are aware of these risks, cautioning them to talk to their kids about accepting treats from those they don't know or trust.

"Kids are bringing it to school and think it's funny to give to kids that don't normally use marijuana," Cooke said. "Kids love to pick on the strait-laced kids."

"My fear is that it's something a lot of people haven't thought of," Cooke said. "I personally have told my children for years to not accept home-baked goods … we see the activity as police officers, but (other parents) don't necessarily see it like that, so we try to pass that knowledge on."

He is especially worried that the recent legalization of marijuana will increase the access minors have to the drug, making kids at risk for what can be legally termed as a poisoning.

Masking the drug in a cookie, brownie or any other baked good makes getting marijuana into schools that much easier, Cooke said.

"Schools create a perfect storm of opportunity," he said. "Kids by nature tend to be more trusting; they also tend to be more willing to engage in pranks without understanding the consequences."

That consequence could be a criminal charge: delivering a controlled substance or even second-degree assault, a charge that includes administering a noxious substance.

Data indicates use of marijuana among youth is steadily growing. The Washington State Healthy Youth Survey indicates that use of the drug among 10th graders rose from 17 percent in 2004 to 21 percent in 2010.

Sean Chavez, coordinator of PREVENT! Coalition of Clark County, said that if kids treat marijuana use like a joke, it downplays the risks of using the drug.

He says that tetrahydrocannabinol has unique properties that inhibit learning, can cause anxiety, and affect growth and development in teenagers.

Although you can't die from marijuana overdose, Chavez says, the drug can still be dangerous. Statistically, one in six people become addicted to the drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"Death should not be our threshold of harm," he said. "We want to get (youth) thinking about being healthy."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.