Health Dept. on marijuana: Lock it up, keep kids safe

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While the billboards are starting to come down in Kent County, the concern about kids accidentally consuming marijuana is still high.

An undated courtesy image shows the billboard that went up along roadsides throughout Kent County. (Kent County Health Department)

The Kent County Health Department recently posted billboards throughout the county reading, “Keep kids safe! Lock up marijuana.”

The health department says keeping marijuana away from children is not only required by law, it is critical for early brain development and could save lives.

“There are many harmful effects of marijuana on the developing brain of youth, that is truly one of the reasons and one of the most important ones, but also there can be health hazards like dizziness, shortness of breath, to actually somebody actually stopping their breathing,” said Amy Osterink, who leads health education for the health department.

Now that marijuana is legal in Michigan, health officials say more kids are getting their hands on it. Wayne State University reports the majority of calls the Michigan Poison Center at WSU has taken this year is related to marijuana edibles, likely because of last year’s legalization of marijuana.

So far in 2019, the Michigan Poison Center has taken 59 calls about children who have come in contact with marijuana edibles, up from 46 calls in 2018 and nearly nine times the number of similar calls in 2017.

Osterink says marijuana-infused products like brownies, cookies, gummies and other sweets lead to accidental ingestions. A doctor with Wayne State says the treats are desirable to kids who may not be able to read the label.

“Kids are going to find a way to get access to it. We don’t want that to happen,” Osterink says. “We’re promoting lock it up. Keep it out of the hands of children. Keep it away from them to even see, to keep them safe. That’s really the goal we’re trying to promote here.”

Some counties like Branch, Hillsdale and St. Joseph gave away lockboxes to really drive home the message. In Kent County, they’re hoping meaningful dialogue will have the same effect.

The Kent County Health Department teamed up with Grand Rapids’ planning department and the Kent Intermediate School District to inform children and parents about the dangers of accidentally consuming marijuana.

“One of the key things as parents or people in a household is to keep the marijuana or marijuana-infused products out of the reach of children,” Osterink says. “They should get a lock box, with a lock on it, a little unit. and put it away out of sight and out of mind.”

But Osterink says safe storage is sometimes not enough.

“Adults and parents who use medicinal or recreational marijuana should talk to youth about marijuana to help them better understand the risks,” she added.

The health department is all about prevention. Officials hope parents and adults using medicinal or recreational marijuana can set good examples for their children, so they won’t try it in the first place.

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