A girl was caught attempting to smoke marijuana in an elementary school bathroom last week. She is just 8 years old.
The incident has sparked conversation in the Ohio school district about child endangerment and access to drugs, adding to a national conversation about marijuana use and exposure among children and teens.
The student was discovered by a school employee at Pataskala Elementary School in Pataskala, Ohio. When she was found, the student tossed some of the marijuana into a toilet and trashcan.
It was an “eye-opening” incident, given the girl’s age, Pataskala police chief Bruce Brooks told The Advocate newspaper in nearby Newark.
"The good thing is she didn't know how to (smoke the marijuana)," he said. "She lit the (plastic) baggie."
Police found a small amount of marijuana and a lighter, but no drug paraphernalia. The officials do not know how the young student obtained the drugs, but are investigating.
The police have turned to child protective services with student safety in mind.
Southwest Licking Local Schools Superintendent Robert Jennell told The Advocate, “We take the tone in the district that (school) is not the place for drugs.”
He added, "We certainly want to make sure we reach out to all the organizations we can to give this student all the help possible.”
Although finding an 8-year-old child trying to smoke marijuana seems out of the ordinary, young children are increasingly being exposed to the drug, mostly in accidental ways.
Children might accidentally consume marijuana in laced food products, which are increasing in popularity, according to News21. A parent might be prescribed marijuana for medical purposes but prefer to take the medication in edible form. A piece of candy, a cookie or a brownie might be irresistible for tiny hands and mouths.
Such accidental exposure to marijuana has increased significantly among children. Exposure of children under six years old increased 147.5 percent from 2006 to 2013, according to a report in Clinical Pediatrics magazine. Those exposed children had an average age of 1.8 years and 75 percent were under three years old.
But not all young people experience marijuana accidentally.
The Monitoring the Future survey in 2014 saw 21.2 percent of 12th graders reporting use of marijuana in the month before the survey, with nearly 6 percent using it every day.
Younger students were not exempt. Some 6.5 percent of 8th graders had used marijuana in the previous month.
Are those numbers rising? The survey shows the number of students using the drug has been about the same over the past few years. But, the survey suggests, the attitude teenagers have towards marijuana seems to have changed.
Concerns center around the idea that children and teens are increasingly seeing marijuana as a “safe” drug. And some worry that legalization of the drug will encourage that perception.
As Jon Mattleman, a mental health counselor and youth worker for the town of Needham, Mass. told The Christian Science Monitor in January 2014, “The word ‘legal’ does not mean ‘not harmful,’ and that should be every parent’s mantra when talking about it. It’s really important to try to separate those two words.”
When recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado in January 2014, parents and Health Department officials began discussing how best to guide children away from drug use, as some might find access to marijuana before turning 18.
The state Health Department has tried a few campaigns designed to remind kids that their bodies are still developing up until age 25. One such campaign was called “What’s Next” and highlighted how drug use could undermine achievement.
Officials are hoping some laws will help keep marijuana out of kids’ hands, too. In March 2014, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a law to require edible medical marijuana products to be in child-proof packaging, just as recreational marijuana products are. The law also allows dispensaries to confiscate fake IDs from minors, like liquor stores do, and sets forth guidelines for growing marijuana in a home with minors.
Governor Hickenlooper said before signing the bill, "Keeping marijuana out of the hands of kids should be a priority for all of us.”