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CASA GRANDE — Teenagers reportedly do not perceive the harm of using marijuana as much as before, so the Casa Grande Alliance wants to make sure that won’t lead to more of them smoking it.

According to data collected by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, the percentage of Pinal County’s youths who perceived using marijuana as a “great risk” decreased by about 18 percent between 2012 and 2014. 

Casa Grande Alliance Executive Director Breanna Boland said the city has not seen an increase in marijuana use among youth, but when teens think the substance is less harmful then it tends to lead to higher usage.

The organization hosted an educational event at City Hall Tuesday night to try and keep marijuana use from following that pattern. Titled “Marijuana: Let’s Be Blunt,” the event intended to not make an argument for or against the substance but rather be a discussion about marijuana’s various facts.     

Members from local chapters of Students Against Destructive Decisions performed a simulated debate at the event, where participants took on different personas and espoused the pros and cons of marijuana. 

Ashlyn Alvarado, a Vista Grande High School junior, argued that the potential tax revenue offered through legalizing the marijuana industry would not outweigh the public health costs that come with more people becoming addicted to the substance. 

Alvarado said she was enlightened by the research and preparation done for the mock debate.  

“I knew that (marijuana) was really bad for you but I didn’t know exactly how bad or in what ways,” she said.

Alvarado said she thinks her SADD chapter has been successful in changing her peers’ perspectives on marijuana through the Making Our Students Think education campaign, which tries to discredit the normalization of marijuana.   

A panel consisting of Boland, Casa Grande Justice of the Peace John Ellsworth, a Casa Grande Police officer and a drug prevention specialist from Community Bridges Inc. ended Tuesday’s event by answering public questions. 

Ellsworth said he tries to voice the importance of setting a good example for children to the parents that come to his court on drug possession charges. 

Officer Paul Valentino informed the audience that the levels of THC, marijuana’s main ingredient, vary depending on where the drug is grown. Marijuana coming from Colorado or California may have up to 40 percent more THC than what’s coming from Mexico, he said. 

When asked how the Casa Grande Alliance’s mission might change if Arizona legalizes marijuana on next year’s ballot, Boland responded by saying the organization will remain a source of information for all legal and non-legal substances that pose a societal threat.  

“No matter what the substance is, if it can be abused, we’re going to educate on it,” Boland said.  

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