Reprinted with permission
by Melinda Baird, The Sun Times News
July 6, 2017: Should local elected officials serving west of Ann Arbor consider public safety data from Colorado when deciding whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and/or grow facilities in their communities? The Michigan State Police believes they should. The department collected and compiled data attempting to get in front of what appears to be the inevitable legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan.
On June 28 MSP Detective 1st Lieutenant Dale Smith, a 27-year law enforcement veteran and current commander of LAWNET (Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotic Enforcement Team), presented “Lessons learned from the state of Colorado” to a host of officials representing the communities of Dexter, Chelsea, Stockbridge, Grass Lake, Scio, Webster, Lima, and Sylvan.
“This presentation is all fact-based. It is not my opinion. It is not the Michigan State Police’s opinion. It’s based on facts that we gathered,” Smith established.
With the passing of the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act in fall 2016, Michigan now stands where Colorado did in 2010 when medical marijuana dispensaries were legalized. Two years later in Colorado, recreational marijuana became legal. Michigan is likely to follow a similar pattern, Smith said, so law enforcement is working to avoid being blindsided by this reality.
“The Colorado Chiefs of Police didn’t believe the threat and didn’t get out in front of it,” said Smith.
Lesson Number One – Colorado law enforcement underestimated the marijuana lobby and corporate influence on the legalization of recreational marijuana and overestimated public resistance, he said.
In Colorado, the marijuana lobby outspent the state sponsored public safety and education initiatives regarding recreational marijuana $20 million to $450,000—or 44 to 1. With this degree of lopsided spending comes a lopsided message, Smith said.
Co-founder and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project Rob Kampia said as much himself when addressing supporters in 2014. “MPP is a machine, whereby you insert money in one end and policy change comes out the other end,” Kampia said.
With the law providing for over 200 plants per grower per year (each plant producing one to three pounds of useable marijuana), growers can conservatively estimate a profit of $700,000 annually. Some say that, because this amounts to 36 pounds of medical marijuana per patient (equivalent to 88 marijuana cigarettes a day per patient), recreational use has already been legalized.
Lesson Number Two – when this amount of money is invested, a return on investment is expected -bringing Smith to the second lesson learned: Colorado law enforcement failed to educate the public and lawmakers that today’s marijuana is not the same marijuana they remember from college.
According to NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse, average THC levels in 1980 were 1.5%; in the early 1990’s 3.7%. From 1999 to 2011, THC levels increased in the United States 144%; from 2010 to 2014 in Colorado alone they increased 155%. THC levels in today’s marijuana now reach 28% in plant form. These unprecedented levels pale in comparison to the increasingly popular marijuana-infused products made by extracting nearly 100% pure THC resin from the plant using the highly flammable gas butane.
According to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (a collaboration of federal, state and local drug enforcement agencies), 32 butane-related house explosions occurred in Colorado in 2014. (Eight similar explosions have occurred in Washtenaw County since 2013, Smith said.)
Lesson Number Three – treating “Medibles”— a wide range of edible products made with marijuana extracts (in the form of oils, butters, and waxes) the same as plant-form marijuana is MSP’s third lesson learned. Medibles can contain 80-90% psychoactive THC, said Smith.
Smith noted that there has never been a scientific study on the physical, emotional and mental effects of marijuana use conducted with THC levels above 12%. Still, a public health risk to youth is evident. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, average marijuana use among Colorado youth ages 12 to 17 in 2013/14—the two years following legalized recreational marijuana—was 74% higher than the national average compared to 39% higher in 2011/12. Teen admissions to treatment for marijuana use at the Arapahoe House treatment network in Colorado increased by 66% between 2011 and 2014. Drug-related suspensions and expulsions in Colorado public high schools increased 40% from 2008 to 2014.
The adolescent brain is more susceptible to THC and kids have a greater chance of developing addiction, says NIH. One in six teens become addicted, with persistent marijuana users showing a significant drop in IQ and worse social outcomes associated with education and employment.
Lesson Number Four – and who is being targeted by unregulated, flashy advertising of marijuana-infused products in the form of pixie sticks, gummy bears, cotton candy, and copy-cat packaging of popular sodas, candy bars, ice cream bars, and hazelnut spread? One word: youth.
“Do you see medicine like penicillin advertised like this?” Smith asked rhetorically.
Considering a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana will likely come before Michigan voters in November 2018, Smith called on his audience to anticipate the consequences before deciding whether to allow medical marijuana facilities in their communities.
“Ask yourselves: what are you not seeing in Colorado? You’re seeing parks being built with marijuana funds. You’re seeing all the great stuff, but what are you not seeing?”
Alongside a rise in youth substance abuse and home explosions, a September 2015 report by Rocky Mountain HIDTA states marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado have increased by 154% between 2006 and 2014 and marijuana-related emergency room visits by 77%.
And then there’s the crime and neighborhood deterioration that naturally follows.
Smith represented law enforcement as being generally accepting of medical marijuana for people in need, but troubled by the huge surplus that is created by the generous parameters provided by the murky law. The extra is getting sold illegally by cash-only transactions, increasing the potential for robberies. Dispensaries in Colorado now outnumber Starbucks and McDonalds combined. Grow facilities—often houses in the country bought up by investors—are being torn down at a rapid rate due to black mold infestation, Smith said.
Lobbyists Response – Marijuana Policy Project, one of the most powerful driving forces behind ballot initiatives throughout the nation to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, says marijuana use is already “mainstream and widespread,” and therefore ought to be brought under a sensible system of regulation. Besides the obvious benefit taxation provides states and local municipalities, regulation can help insure a safer product to consumers. Further, MPP said, legalization can provide an alternative to highly-addictive opioids as well as channel law enforcement resources to “real crime.”
Officials Response – Chelsea Police Chief Ed Toth, whose municipality won’t be adopting an ordinance allowing facilities, challenged people to peruse the area around Gratiot and 8 Mile in Detroit where a plethora of dispensaries exist.
“With the dispensaries you’ll have 50 to 60 people hanging outside every one of them. Go take a look for yourself and make your own decision,” he said.
Toth said his sister-in-law, who passed away from ALS, was a legitimate candidate for medical marijuana use. But what he’s seeing is an open door for people to obtain medical marijuana who don’t need it, and for caregivers to illegally sell the surplus. And, Toth said, there’s not enough law enforcement to manage the law’s requirements.
Scio Township Supervisor Jack Knowles, whose municipality has not yet articulated a decision either way, warned others not to be tempted by the promised tax revenue. He thinks very little money will actually trickle down to the communities that allow facilities, and the costs associated with the ramifications will outweigh whatever that number is.
Stockbridge Township Trustee Terry Sommers, whose municipality has gone so far as to draft an ordinance which could allow some or all of the options in the law (medical marijuana provisioning center; processing center; transportation; cultivation; and testing/ safety compliance) soon to be reviewed by its planning commission, said the township board (which has not yet voted on the matter) is interested in exploring medical but not recreational marijuana facilities for the sake of helping people in need.
Near the end of the presentation, Smith offered his personal opinion to officials, which is, at least for now, to do nothing.
“That’s what I’d do. I’d stand back and let the train wreck happen in somebody else’s township and learn from that,” Smith said.
Melinda Baird is a writer for the Sun Times News and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org