SURVEY: Local students admit to driving after smoking marijuana

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Health experts say new research shows a high percentage of teens in our area are admitting to driving after using marijuana.

Action News dug through the latest data with health experts and Washington State troopers who are hoping to use these findings to drive an important message home.

60 percent - that's how many Benton County 12th graders who smoke marijuana admit to getting behind the wheel within three hours of taking a toke.

Troopers say it’s a startling new statistic to take in.

"A lot of kids have a misperception that it's okay for them to have marijuana and smoke it, but actually you're not even supposed to possess marijuana under 21 in the state," said Washington State Patrol’s Trooper Chris Thorson.

It's an illegal decision that can land a teen in jail or the hospital immediately if they’re caught. However, health experts say there's long term costs as well.

“The brain develops well into your 20s, so just using those types of drugs really can impact your learning, your memory and your school performance,” said the Prosser Community Involvement and Action Coalition’s Jennifer Dorsett.

Dorsett sends surveys to 10th and 12th grade students in our county every two years.

Brand new results show that seniors aren't the only ones driving under the influence. Just about half of the 10th graders who reported marijuana use in the past 30 days said they had driven within three hours of smoking.

"Marijuana, now that it's legal kids are perceiving it as less risky," said Dorsett.

She's seeing this first hand by comparing answers from the last two studies.

"Kids are saying 10-20 percent less than what they did two years ago, they think it's less risky to use marijuana," said Dorsett.

However, that's the opposite of what troopers are seeing on our local roads.

“The results are devastating,” said Trooper Thorson, adding “When people lose their loved ones, it's devastating to the entire family."

The CIA coalitions says family is at the heart of the solution to this problem.

"I think it's important that parents know the number one reason children choose not to participate in risky behavior is because their parents don't think it's okay," said Dorsett.

Officials will be hosting a region wide meeting next month to go over these results with each school district that took part in the survey.

From there, new strategies will be made towards turning these behaviors around.

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