Marijuana’s fit in Midland’s puzzle

It may take two years for consumers over 21 to be able to purchase marijuana for recreational use in Michigan. The process of legalizing marijuana in a state takes time and a lot of consulting. According to Bridge, Michigan will take time to curate the necessary regulations for marijuana before the product takes to stores. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will have a two year time frame to fabricate and administer distribution licenses. Beyond statewide regulations, cities have a say as well.

As state law, cities can choose to prohibit the allowance of commercial sales if they prefer the marijuana market to be absent in their community. According to Josh Hovey in an interview with Bridge, the community must “adopt a local ordinance or pass a referendum”. Communities also have the option to limit the quantity of businesses they want in their area. The difference between having dispensaries and retail establishments, is the way a municipality navigates around them. A township could opt to have dispensaries and opt out of retail establishments. However, some local Midland Administration carried concern before the legalization was put in place.

Before legalization was even presented to be voted on, Midland Administration visited Lansing to discuss its effect on the community, specifically in schools.

“A couple of administrators went down to a meeting that was in Lansing before this even was brought up to the voters to be passed, and they talked about how it’s [legal] in Colorado, Oregon, and a couple other states where they already have it so basically its effect on students, which was really unique to see because in all of those states, their number one suspension is marijuana,” Principle Steven Poole said.

From past to present, Poole has seen changes in the way students interact with the drug, and how many choose to do so.

“When I was an assistant principal, there was a lot of marijuana suspensions and now I just don’t see it as much,” Poole said. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, kids just don’t bring it to school as much or don’t use it here. But to hear from other states where it has basically taken over kids getting caught, because it is more readily available to them that was a concern.”

Poole doesn’t feel as though his job has changed since the legalization of recreational use, however, the decision on if the county will allow dispensaries interests him to see how its availability could affect students. According to his threshold of information from other states, very negative results in terms of its availability to students was found, however he will only know its effects here, when everything is set up and laws are set in stone.

In terms of the law for recreational use, Midland County must still abide by the legislation put in place.

“You have to be 21 years or older to possess or use [marijuana],” Resource Officer Bryan Soule said. “The amount to have on your person or in your vehicle to transport is two and a half ounces or less and it’s no more than 15 grams of marijuana concentrate. At your house you can grow up to 12 plants and you can have up to 10 ounces of marijuana at your residence.”

As students don’t meet the minimum age requirement for consumption of marijuana, the laws do not pertain to them, but that does not mean they can neglect the rules of the road.

“In my position [my job] hasn’t changed a lot, because nobody in high school is 21 years old so it hasn’t been an issue in school but on the road our approach is a little different,” Officer Soule said. “We still have to make sure nobody’s driving under the influence because still no matter your age, you can’t drive under the influence of marijuana.”

Although not legal for those under the age of 21, effects on the youth can be noted. Those in the medical field of Midland County now have to consider the effects on adolescents and what to do in conjunction with the legalization.

“The public has spoken,” Medical Director Catherine Bodnar said. “It’s now legal to possess small quantities of marijuana and soon to be sold legally from retail establishments in the state, so my perspective is from public health. I’m a Medical Director for the Midland County Department of Public Health and we need strategies to help keep the public safe as opposed to sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not legal. Ignoring the legalization of marijuana is not the right action. I think both people who are for legalization and people who are against legalization can come together to be sure that it’s kept out of the hands of youth. We have a lot of data from Colorado and Washington state. Once recreational marijuana was legalized, their hospitalizations for young children went up, and emergency room visits for young children went up; because some of these products are very appealing to small children.”

Considerations must be made when looking into the effects on youth. Over time marijuana has changed in terms of potency levels, which can harshly affect young people if consumed.

“The other thing that you have to remember is that the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the 1970s,” Bodnar said. “People will refer to studies done in the 60s and 70s, but that pot was different. The amount of active THC was a few percent, and it’s gone up over the years. Now it can be up to 40% active ingredient as opposed to three to five percent. So, keeping it out of the hands of very young children is imperative as well as keeping it from youth. When we’re talking about youth, we’re really talking about folks up to the mid 20s because the brain develops up until about age 25. We know that there’s some deleterious effects on the developing brain and ideally we would like to at least look at harm reduction, especially for these populations that are more vulnerable. People on both sides, whether they wanted it legal or not, will most likely agree that we really need to keep things safe for youth success.”

Those who are under the legal age are not the only ones affected medically.

“Even though many people don’t think of marijuana as addictive, there is a marijuana use disorder, and about nine percent of people who use marijuana become addicted or dependent on it, but in people who start using it during their teenage years, it’s more like 17 percent,” Bodnar said. “Which is another reason to at least delay usage. The other statistic that I think a lot of people aren’t really aware of, is anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of daily users can become dependent upon marijuana. So, addiction and dependence are a concern. Learning and mental health can be affected by use. Even once a week use can impair thinking, memory and learning. The brain is still developing until the mid 20s and connections happen in these areas which can be altered by marijuana. We do know that teens and young adults who use marijuana are more likely to have serious mental health problems: anxiety, depression, psychosis and schizophrenia, so there’s an association there.”

Past the internal medical affects there are external factors such as when driving. When under the influence of marijuana, reaction time is slowed, which can cause accidents. People who may work with machinery, also are at risk of injuries, if under the influence of marijuana. Driving or operating machinery, is illegal and should not be done, however, there are always some cases in which a person partakes in both. Additionally, motivation decreases when using marijuana, impairing success. However, the sole use of marijuana isn’t the only problem.

“The other thing you have to think of is a lot of people who use marijuana don’t do so in a vacuum, they might use it in conjunction with alcohol, and maybe other drugs and substances that affect different areas of the brain,” Bodnar said. “So if you’re using marijuana and alcohol and you’re looking at driving impairment, that impairment with the two together is more than each one separately if you added them; it’s a synergistic effect. Impairment and safety is a big factor, there’s a whole host of medical considerations, effects and various social determinants  which probably have a big effect on motivation. That again, in increased use in youth and is a big concern because everybody wants youth to reach their full potential. Regular chronic use of marijuana really deflates motivation.”

Other factors such as crime and marketing are also affected by legalization of marijuana. Different aspects are recorded by states such as Colorado and Washington state. Locally, different things are affected.

“Colorado saw increased homelessness, there’s a negative impact upon businesses, especially if a business has substance free requirements and does substance testing they’re gonna have problems finding employees and some businesses have problems as it is and so this will even increase the problem,” Bodnar said. “The other thing is the tax revenues are not realized; there’s a cost to enforce the laws and then there’s [a cost to] all the health impacts that we talked about. When you add it all up, you’re typically spending more to legalize marijuana than you’re bringing in with tax revenue. The black market typically thrives in areas that have legalized marijuana, and you would think, ‘oh, maybe there wouldn’t be a need for the black market.’ Where it’s legal, there’s increased demand, and the black market can undercut the legal price, so the black market tends to thrive. I know one of the concerns is that Michigan will be a Midwest center for marijuana distribution to other Midwest states. It’s not supposed to go out of the state, this would be black market activity.”

According to CBC, Colorado’s black market is explosive even after the formation of over 500 recreational marijuana dispensaries. These operations are run by organizations that oversee the growing of weed, to then take illegally to other states that have not yet legalized it for recreational use. Therefore, this marijuana can yield a much higher profit. Another factor for the booming business is that the prices are higher in recreational dispensaries so customers stick with the illegal businesses they know. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration one can find drug trafficking organizations in Colorado which may pose concerns to other states who will legalize or have hopes to.

Even more locally, some individuals in Midland have concerns with a group of medical marijuana growers.

“I understand that with just medical marijuana, there’s Cuban grow operations, including one in Midland county and there’s criminal activity associated with these grow centers and distribution centers,” Bodnar said. “I understand the expectation is that crime would increase so in addition to health and safety effects increased criminal activity is another reason why cities and townships and municipalities don’t want it in their town.”

Due to the votes in Midland Township, there will be no dispensary or retail establishment for the distribution of marijuana. Some may be concerned with how they can get it, but if one were to look at the surrounding cities, they could see multiple options for purchase.

The closest current dispensary is 15.9 miles away according to Where’s Weed. However, according to the site it has received low ratings and should be researched before chosen as a primary distributor. For a combination of distance and higher rating, Roots of Bay City has a high rating and is also only 16.7 miles away. However, these dispensaries are intended for medical use and not recreational. As previously stated it could take as little as two years to get retail establishments set up.

The way in which Bay City was allowed to open multiple dispensaries was through an application process. According to an mLive article, around 25 applications were reviewed. Since 2008, Michigan has allowed the use of medical marijuana. Bay City, in 2017, then got an ordinance passed to be able to run dispensaries within the city limits.

According to Morning Sun, Mt. Pleasant has chosen avenues to open dispensaries through the form of a lottery. The location of the dispensary was chosen through a lottery drawing. If one of the three winners falls through during the process, one from the waiting list would move up.

Through this experimental process, Michigan may slowly learn the ways in which it will navigate the distribution of marijuana. Locally factors must be considered as choices are made, however options still stand.

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Grace Sobeck

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