The La Crosse County Prevention Network partnered with the Monroe County Safe Community Coalition to host “Marijuana Boot Camp: A Community Conversation” at Stoney Creek Inn Friday. The goal of that was to have a dialogue and educational opportunity for community members on the effects marijuana has in today's world based on information available.
The featured speaker was Tony Coder from an organization called Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Coder said their main concerns were not to demonize the drug, but to offer a better understanding, especially at the consumer and lawmaking level.
“We don't believe that people should be locked up for small marijuana use or small amounts of marijuana,” Coder said. “However, we are concerned about the big industry that seems to be burgeoning up across the country.”
The concern from Coder is that those new industries seem to be preying upon younger people, people who have existing substance abuse disorders, and upon those in low-income communities.
“We want to make sure that as folks are considering these types of policies and regulations, that we don't let those types of groups be the lead in the conversation […] The main priority of the marijuana industry is to make money. It isn't about health, it isn't about social justice or anything like that.”
Coder admitted that in many areas, not much is known about long term effects due to rules coming from the federal level.
“The Federal level doesn't allow enough study and enough testing of marijuana. That is something that we advocate for on a national level […] we need policies based on science, based on research and upon what is best practice around the country.”
During his presentation, a repeat concern dealing with other states who have legalized marijuana was effects on youth. Following legalization in Colorado, expulsions from school rose significantly. Coder said the normalization and availability of the drug led students to be expelled for possession, failing drug tests and other violations of school policy toward drugs.
Coder also said after legalizing medical marijuana in Colorado, traffic fatalities tied to marijuana use rose 114%. “Drugged driving” (a majority, but not limited to marijuana) has exceeded drunk driving in the US in terms of traffic fatalities.
“We do see that more people think that it's okay to drive while high on marijuana when really it's almost as dangerous as alcohol.”
Something Coder hopes to come of these community conversations is for community members and health professionals to help lawmakers make educated decisions when it comes to regulations, should topics of medical or recreational legalization arise.
“One of the complaints I get from the alcohol industry is that if they're going to legalize marijuana, they aren't even regulated like alcohol. Can you imagine having an alcohol infused gummy bear? Alcohol is under a much tighter microscope than marijuana is.”
A full overview of Colorado's regulations on marijuana can be found here.
Concerns over mental health issues were brought up dealing with recreational legalization. Coder said that hospitalizations rose in states, mainly due to short term psychotic episodes from ingesting or smoking too much. In youth they found earlier onsets of schizophrenia, a lifelong mental illness.
Marijuana was tied to, but not necessarily the cause of a rise in suicides and drug overdose deaths. In La Crosse County, half of the overdose deaths also had marijuana in their system (according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, no deaths from marijuana overdose have ever been recorded).
Those same issues also had ties to poverty, racial disparity, and chronic depression.
“It's a chicken and the egg [situation],” Coder said. “Do we know that marijuana use is causing more depression, or do we know that people are self-medicating their depression with marijuana?”
Coder said that there was a rise in psychotic breaks for some along with prolonged use. During his presentation, he said that marketing of marijuana to veterans with PTSD was “almost criminal”.
In short, Coder hopes that a more enriched dialogue will help communities across the country be able to regulate and avoid pitfalls when making future decisions on marijuana laws.
“We're trying to at least educate and help Wisconsin citizens understand that policies need to be written to protect public health and public safety.”
The Marijuana Boot Camp ran from 8:30am to 3:00pm.