Drug abuse across our country has been a major concern of law enforcement for decades. Now, with increased availability of marijuana in Routt County, we would be remiss if we did not voice our concerns. We also have concerns about alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit drugs; however, issues related to those drugs are not appearing on the ballot this November. Law enforcement has a responsibility to keep all citizens safe and enforce the law when it comes to illicit drug use and the presence of any drug that affects youths or society in general.
The effects of marijuana intoxication vary with the individual, just as they do with alcohol. There are many studies from medical and legitimate research professionals documenting the adverse effects of marijuana. The adverse effects include intoxication, reduced coordination, distorted perception, concentration difficulties, impaired learning functions and dependence. These adverse effects combined with motor vehicle crashes make this a public safety issue while the health effects and messaging to our youths make it, just as importantly, a community issue.
New information indicates the most common drug for which users seek treatment is marijuana, and marijuana is the leading cause of substance dependence other than alcohol. For the first time in a decade, there has been an increase in marijuana use among youths. Many drug experts cite the medical marijuana movement as affecting teens’ attitudes on marijuana.
Price, availability and quality are the biggest factors related to the demand for any product. Medical marijuana centers in Routt County have clearly affected the quality and availability of marijuana. Some of our local marijuana strains are winning national awards, and we have numerous incidents of nonmedical marijuana cardholders possessing medical marijuana. A snapshot of these incidents include a 17-year-old in possession of medical marijuana-dispensed hash oil at school last spring; a 22-year-old man who was not a cardholder found in possession of Purple Kush dispensed by a local dispensary Sept. 6; and a local woman killed in a crash earlier this year on U.S. Highway 40 in Steamboat where being under the influence of marijuana was considered to be a contributing factor in her death.
Local law enforcement statistics support the fact that the increased availability of marijuana has resulted in increased use and affected public safety in Routt County, including a 64 percent increase in DUID arrests in Steamboat Springs from 2009 to 2010 and doubling for the time period of Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2011, compared with the same period in 2010.
It is too easy for a cardholder to purchase medical marijuana for a noncardholder, and there is sufficient evidence of rogue doctors sending nonphysicians to Steamboat Springs and issuing cards for nondebilitating injuries, without a bona fide doctor-patient relationship and without an exam. This was proven at Bud Werner Memorial Library a couple weeks ago when an undercover police officer was issued a medical marijuana referral from a nurse for a stubbed toe that “occasionally aches.” The referral was done without an exam, without seeing a Colorado-licensed physician and by paying a $100 fee.
Substance use is affected by availability, perception of risk and public attitude. Risks include the fear of getting in trouble by violating the law, disobeying school or parent rules and the physical and psychological dangers. Public attitude includes family units, neighborhoods, communities, states and nations. Advertising tactics and legalization of medical marijuana centers increases availability, portrays a greater level of public acceptance and decreases the perception of risk. These are the same factors that affect the rate of drug use in a community.
Medical marijuana cardholders can purchase as much as 2 ounces of marijuana at a time. In these economically challenging times, with budgets that have been slashed year after year, it is unreasonable to think law enforcement has the ability to increase staffing and work cases that involve the selling of medical marijuana to nonpatients.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, stated that the legalization of marijuana, for any purpose, is a nonstarter in the Obama administration because of the known dangers, messaging to youths and harmful effects.
Limiting medical marijuana to the caregiver model and eliminating storefront centers will decrease the availability of marijuana in our communities while allowing legitimate patient access.
JD Hays is the Steamboat Springs Police Department chief of police. Joel Rae is captain of the Police Department. Garrett Wiggins is the Routt County sheriff. Ray Birch is the Routt County undersheriff.