MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO) -- Marijuana use among youth is extremely high in Mesa County, according to new data released by the Mesa County Health Department on Thursday.
More than half (52.7 percent) of the high school students surveyed in Mesa County believe that it would be pretty easy for them to get marijuana if they wanted it.
A similar percentage (58.8 percent) think that its wrong for someone their age to use marijuana.
The survey revealed some staggering statistics about marijuana use among Mesa County youth.
According the Mesa County Health Department, 12.6 percent of students used marijuana for the first time before they were 13 years old. Statewide that number is only slightly over 9.2 percent.
“I am not surprised because once they legalized marijuana here, it was telling kids that it was perfectly safe and fine and OK to do,” said Anne Mueller, a parent of young adults.
“It definitely was surprising for us just in the sense that it shows us now teens – well now preteens – are using a lot earlier than we thought they were,” said Heidi Dragoo, the program manager for Epidemiology and Health Analytics at the Mesa County Health Department.
Health officials argue using marijuana can stall brain and body development in young people.
“The kids are not aware of what’s going on, or what could happen to them to them through the use of drugs,” Chuck Tourney said.
There were 1,403 juvenile arrests per 100,000 people in Mesa County for pot possession in comparison to the state average of 611. These statistics are interesting since is recreational marijuana isn't sold legally in Grand Junction.
“Learning about the effects of drugs is equally as important as the academic piece--its part of growing up in our world today,” said parent Trisha Giallanza.
Perhaps another reason for high drug use among Mesa County pre-teens is that District 51 has no drug education or prevention program in schools at this time due to budget cuts, according to school officials.
"This is happening a lot earlier I think than any of us are comfortable with,” Dragoo said. "School has their role for education but it has to start at home. I know it can be a little intimidating for parents to talk about some of these more sensitive topics, but what this report really tells us is that it’s never too early to have those conversations."
District 51 officials said that there is the Pathways program, which is an opportunity to go through a week of counseling and education about the effects of drugs, but students must be first be caught by school officials or police. However, not every student qualifies for that program.
The health department adds that there are resources for parents through their website on how to start a conversation about drugs prevention with children.
Go to healthymesacounty.org and click on the parent tab.