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OUR OPINION: Teach young people about pot’s risks

Minnesota may not legalize medical marijuana this year, but it probably will do so before many years are out.

So will North Dakota. So will South Dakota. The effort already has persuaded 20 states; sooner or later, the other 30 as well as the federal government probably will follow suit.

But that change will come with a trade-off, as Dave Kolb of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association makes clear: When medical marijuana use goes up, recreational use of the drug does, too, including among young people.

What to do?

Here’s an idea.

Minimize the trade-off in this way: by coupling any legalization effort with a massive education campaign.

And make sure every young person learns about marijuana’s dangers as a result.

Go ahead, call it “reefer madness.” But understand that scientists know a lot more about marijuana than they used to; and contrary to the dreams of flower children since the 1960s, the drug is not benign.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s most recent DrugFacts newsletter makes the case:

“Growing evidence is showing that marijuana may be particularly harmful for young people: It may cause long-term or even permanent impairment in cognitive ability and intelligence when used regularly during adolescence, when the brain is still developing.

“There is also some evidence that marijuana use during pregnancy may be associated with neurological problems in babies and impaired school performance later in childhood.

“Another safety concern is that, contrary to common belief, marijuana can be addictive: About 9 percent of people who try marijuana will become addicted to it. The number goes up to about 1 in 6 among people who start using marijuana as teenagers, and to 25 percent to 50 percent among daily users.”

By the way, while marijuana use among middle- and high-school students plunged during the 1980s and early 1990s, “surveys show significant recent increases among 10th and 12th graders for daily, current and past-year marijuana use,” the institute reports.

The increases correspond not only to the growing popularity of medical-marijuana use, but also to a related drop in young people’s perception of marijuana’s risks.

The medical-marijuana trend seems sure to continue. But the ignorance-of-risks trend, society can do something about.