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Sunnyside United looks to change youth attitudes toward marijuana

Lacking a quorum with only five of its 13 board members present, the Sunnyside United group pressed on during its monthly meeting yesterday. Sunnyside United is a community coalition that essentially has taken the place of Sunnyside's Promise in receiving funding from the city, school and hospital. Its focus is on steering youths away from drugs, alcohol and gangs. To that end, Thursday's meeting spent time on the marijuana initiative approved in Washington state. Though legal for adult consumption, marijuana is still illegal for minors. Cathy Kelley is Sunnyside United's coordinator, and yesterday shared with the board how the community is facing a struggle to impress on youngsters the serious consequences of marijuana usage. According to a healthy youth survey conducted in Sunnyside schools, she noted that about one-in-five of the 178 Sierra Vista Middle School eighth graders interviewed say they use marijuana compared to a state average of about 1-in-10. Of the 171 Sierra Vista sixth graders surveyed, 35 percent - more than one-in-three - thought there was little or no risk of using marijuana regularly. Worse yet, Kelley noted, 39 percent of the sixth graders thought there was no or low risk of trying marijuana one or two times. A total of 297 Sunnyside High School sophomores were surveyed, and 57 percent said they felt there was no or low risk from trying marijuana once or twice. Of that group, 23 percent say they use marijuana, compared to a state average of 19 percent. Kelley and the Sunnyside United group is concerned about the lax attitudes, as she produced sobering news from a marijuana forum she attended in Seattle earlier this month. She noted students who use marijuana are more likely to get lower grades in school compared to those who don't use. In addition, she produced graphics showing the negative impacts on the brains of young people who regularly use marijuana and other drugs. Another concern relayed from the marijuana forum are the prospects of some farm lands, such as those in the Lower Valley, dedicated to the crop. Sunnyside Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck also expressed concerns on how the courts will regard youths facing marijuana charges. Yesterday's meeting adjourned without action due to the lack of a quorum. Sunnyside United is next scheduled to meet on Thursday, Aug. 15, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in Room 20 at the Sunnyside School District administration building on Lincoln Avenue.

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