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Edith Orner of Albany, a retired teacher and councilor, reads information about the hazards of marijuana for youths.

During a forum on marijuana, West Albany High School principal Susie Orsborn said there’s a problem of kids coming to school high on pot.

“I call it the ‘I-don’t-care drug,'” she said, adding that it causes students to be apathetic about grades, their families and friends.

About 40 people attended the town hall meeting at the Flinn Block Hall in Albany on Thursday, which was organized by State Rep. Andy Olson and included a panel of law enforcement leaders, politicians and educators.

Much of the event centered on marijuana’s impact on youth.

Panel members stressed talking with children about marijuana, and that there was counseling available for teens with pot habits.

Oregon leads the nation in high school dropout rate and Olson worried about teens having more access to marijuana.

Linn County Juvenile Department Director Torri Lynn told the crowd that there were 80 youth referrals for marijuana possession last year, but he expected that figure to increase.

More than half of the youth referred for pot were between the ages of 13 and 15, Lynn added.

According to a handout at the event, youth who use pot regularly face a lower intelligence, double the risk of depression, increased suicidal thoughts and mental disorders.

Albany Police Department Sgt. Robert Hayes and Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley worried about new methods of using marijuana, such as edibles. Riley cautioned that some edibles are being marketed toward youth.

Hayes said edibles can be extremely potent. One cookie could be the equivalent of 6 servings.

He also worried about people dabbing butane honey oil. An Albany resident making the substance in his garage caused an explosion and set fire to his home earlier this year. That suspect now faces federal charges.

Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny stressed that marijuana use remains illegal for those under 21. Regardless of state law, federal authorities will prosecute some cases involving cannabis, including distribution of marijuana to minors, he added.

Riley said that there also are plenty of people who break state law. About 65 percent of Linn County is timberland, and criminal marijuana plantations continue to occur out in the rugged landscape.

“We’ll continue to have to battle those large grows,” Riley said.

Besides swelling the black market, those operations fuel organized crime and create environmental messes, he added.

Olson also pointed out that cardholders for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program have jumped from 68,000 at the start of 2015 to 74,000 as of mid-September.

The legalization of recreational marijuana, oddly enough, has resulted in more people seeking OMMP cards. Olson said the reason was to avoid taxes, and stressed that there isn’t any discussion on taxing medical marijuana.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard. 

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