Marijuana is gateway drug, says coalition leader

The Tecumseh Coalition for Youth hosted a free Community Forum on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts to present updates regarding medical marihuana.Kenneth Stecker, of the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Association, presented a Medical Marihuana Legislative Update, providing an overview and current community issues associated with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.Tecumseh Coalition for Youth coordinator April Demers said Stecker was considered the “expert” on medical marihuana cases.Stecker, who said he was there to provide objective information, initially offered a breakdown of marihuana and its active ingredient, thc, and said emerging research points to potential links between a rise in teen usage in states where medical marihuana is legal, including in Michigan. He said an ounce typically goes for $100-$400, but in the Midwest, an ounce often sells for between $200 and $700, with Michigan being the only Midwest state to have legalized medical marihuana.“Keep in mind, under federal law, it’s still very much illegal and they have not changed their position,” Stecker said. “Congress recognizes no acceptable medical use for it and it’s still a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S. DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] policy recognizes the high potential for abuse and recognizes no acceptable medical use.”He said that in Michigan, Schedule 1 drugs are defined in the Medical Marihuana Act. Eighteen states now have legalized the use of medical marihuana, and recently Colorado and Washington have legalized it for recreational use.Stecker said in Michigan, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program (MMMP) is administered through the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), which is a state registry program within the Health Professions Division in the Bureau of Health Care Services. He reviewed the application process and pointed out four new medical marihuana bills that will become law on April 1, 2013. The amendments to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act include such provisions as requiring proof of Michigan residency before obtaining a card that is good for two years; require a physician’s written certification of a qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition following a full assessment from an in-person medical evaluation and having a “bona-fide physician-patient relationship.” “You cannot get a prescription for a Schedule 1 drug,” Stecker said. “The doctor is not prescribing, just stating you have a debilitating medical condition that can likely benefit from use. This is all good stuff, putting a little pressure on those doctors to make sure it’s a good faith examination of these individuals,” he said.Other amendments included requiring a qualifying patient or primary caregiver to present a registry identification card and a valid driver license or government-issued photo ID card in order to be protected from arrest. Stecker added that there were new provisions regarding transporting or possessing “usable marihuana” and included transporting it in a locked case and carried in the trunk of a vehicle. “Also in dealing with planting of marihuana, it’s very important to keep in mind that plants have to be enclosed in a locked facility,” he said. Stecker added that one of the most important parts of the Act reads that all other acts, which include ordinances or other state law, would be trumped by the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.Mayor Richard Johnson was present in the audience, and asked a question about local units of government attempting to establish local ordinances and whether they would hold up.“I would take the line now that dispensaries are illegal, and patient to patient transfer is illegal as of today,” said Stecker. Johnson wondered if a zoning ordinance stipulating where medical marihuana could be grown would also be included. “I think where ordinances are concerned, it’s going to be challenged. The U.S. Supreme Court reverses decisions more with ordinances than with any other type of law. They’re always subject to scrutiny.”Stecker reviewed some present court cases, and said that one called State of Michigan vs. McQueen in the Supreme Court should be coming down with a decision any day now.“That one will be very important to watch,” he said.Following Stecker’s presentation, Demers provided a review called, “Understanding the Effects of Marijuana Use.” She noted that one in five high school seniors are using marihuana on a regular basis.“They say it’s easier to access than alcohol, and the perception is if it’s legal, it’s not as harmful and is more acceptable, even in comparison with alcohol,” she said. Demers pointed out that today’s marijuana has a higher content of thc than it did in the 60s and 70s. “It’s like taking 20 ibuprofen in comparison to two. It’s going to have an affect on the body and brain. We have access to a lot more research on the long-term effects now than in the past. We believe that marijuana is indeed being used as a gateway drug.”

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