The results suggest that while considering legalisation of marijuana, apart from crime rates and economic benefits, the risk to young children of swallowing, breathing in or otherwise being exposed to marijuana also needs to be considered.

"Any state considering marijuana legalisation needs to include child protection in its laws from the very beginning," said senior author Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Ohio.

In states that legalised marijuana from 2000 to 2013, the rate increased almost 16 percent per year after legalisation. More than 75 percent of the children who were exposed to marijuana were younger than three years of age. Most exposures resulted in only minor clinical effects, but some children experienced coma, decreased breathing, or seizures.

"The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods," co-author Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital stated.

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