Macomb attorneys, law enforcement ‘Clear the Smoke’ about marijuana

Michigan’s medical marijuana act has created some confusion among youth, decreasing their perceptions of the drug’s risks and increasing their perceptions of its acceptability, according to the many law enforcement legal and youth experts that converged on the Macomb Intermediate School District April 1.

“A lot of young people think that after this law was passed, ‘Marijuana is legal, what is the big deal? It is legal now right?’ It is not legal in Michigan,” said William Dailey, the chief of the drug unit in the Macomb County Prosecutor’s office.

Dailey was one of many speakers who participated in the “Critical Issues of Youth: Clearing the Smoke about Marijuana” conference, which was sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families. The conference was designed to help members of community agencies, school staffs, substance abuse professionals, social workers, law enforcement, government officials, psychologists, counselors, nurses and physicians understand the state’s marijuana law and its perceptions among youth.

Speakers at the conference included Ken Stecker of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan; Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham; William Dailey, chief of the drug unit in the Macomb County Prosecutor’s office; Paul Dailey, clinical director of CARE; Helen Klingert, assistant director of the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse and University of Detroit Mercy psychology associate professor Kathleen Zimmerman-Oster.

Topics for discussion included detailed information about the state’s medical marijuana law, understanding signs, symptoms and potential for addiction of the drug in youth, obtaining information about national and local youth use trends and learning about intervention resources. Zimmerman-Oster presented data charting trends in youth marijuana use.

About 340 people attended the conference, according to Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families Executive Director Charlene McGunn.

The coalition chose to hold the conference focusing on marijuana use due to concern about a shift in attitudes in youth about the drug, McGunn said.

According to a 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, marijuana is the illicit drug most abused by youth, both nationally and in the state. A Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth Survey indicates a recent decline in the perception of risk that young people have about marijuana use.

“We see a trend – decreased perception of risk since the passage of the law – supported by data from our youth survey and focus groups data,” McGunn said.

Stecker offered a presentation to clarify and update Michigan’s medical marijuana act, explaining the details of the act and related court cases that are still helping to define it.

One area that will need further clarification is what counts as a marijuana plant, according to Stecker.

“Is a dead plant a plant? Is a cutting a plant? Is a clone a plant? Yes, we clone plants. Is a seedling considered a plant that has a root system? These are just some issues that are coming up right now in court cases around the state,” Stecker said.

Another area in the medical marijuana law that will need to be further defined is “enclosed locked facility.” Although the law defines this facility for holding the medical marijuana as a closet, room or other enclosed area equipped with locks or other security devices that permits access only by a registered primary caregiver or registered qualifying patient, courts are still further defining the law and the terms used in it through cases, according to Stecker.

“We literally just had a case in one of the counties next to us that dealt with an older lady who had her 12 plants down in the basement. She had her grandchildren there. The question is whether those plants were in an enclosed, locked facility. The court said they were not in an enclosed, locked facility. A baby gate does not count in order to keep those children out. Seriously, these are the kinds of cases we are getting,” he said.

The term “other security devices” is something else under question, according to Stecker.

“Does that mean an alligator? Is that a guard dog? What is a security device? That is a very important issue right now,” he said.

Stecker also said he frequently gets calls concerning medical marijuana and custody or visitation.

“Custody or visitation is a big one right now. I am getting a lot of calls on this. What about the ex-wife, ex-husband? The ex-husband is a medical marijuana user. He can use medical marijuana because he is a patient. The ex-wife doesn’t like the fact that he is smoking in front of their children. So what does that mean? Obviously the wife is not happy about that. A 5-year-old and you’re smoking medical marijuana in front of that child, or a 3-year-old. Well here is what the law says. ‘A person,’ that could mean anybody, ‘shall not be denied custody or visitation of a minor for acting in accordance with this act, unless the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.’ So the big issue here is what is unreasonable danger? Smoking once in front of the child, is that unreasonable danger? Smoking twice? Ten times? Twenty times? When does it get to that level? So what will the courts do when they make this decision in the future? They will look at the definition of unreasonable and the definition of danger: ‘Exceeding the bounds of reasonable moderation; exposure to liability and injury; pain or harm.’ That is what they will look at. They’ll see a case on this, I am sure in the next three to six months,” Stecker said.

He listed some actions that are prohibited under the medical marijuana act, which include actions like smoking marijuana in a public place or on any form of public transportation, or use by a person who has no serious or debilitating medical condition. Operating, navigating, or being in physical control of motor vehicles, aircraft or motorboats while under the influence, possession in a school bus or possession on the grounds of a preschool, primary or secondary school and possession or use in a correctional facility are some other actions that Stecker listed as prohibited under the act.

Wickersham, William Dailey, Paul Dailey and Klingert formed a panel to provide perspectives on marijuana and youth.

“This has been a challenge for law enforcement because our job has always been: take the drugs off the street, make the community safe. Now we are running into traffic stops and sticky situations where we are coming across marijuana in the community and individuals do have medical marijuana cards and we have to allow that medical marijuana to stay out on the street,” Wickersham said.

Wickersham also said some are misusing the law as a money-making opportunity.

“What this law is doing is opening up the opportunity for big business for people to make money,” Wickersham said.

Wickersham said marijuana is a gateway drug, and children who see parents using in their own homes under the medical marijuana act may not see it as illegal for them to use. Youth who illegally possess marijuana will be arrested and face legal charges that can have consequences when they are attempting to obtain scholarships and get into college, Wickersham said.

William Dailey said in addition to colleges, military recruiters often check juvenile court records, which are open to the general public and not destroyed until a juvenile reaches age 30.

“It has real world implications for that 14- or 15-year-old who gets caught with marijuana, who three or four years down the road has moved past that little experimentation point in their lives and they are trying to get a job or they are trying to get into the military, maybe they are applying for federal financial aid which asks about drug convictions,” Dailey said.

Paul Dailey explained what marijuana looks like and how it is used by teens, as well as other things that can be mixed with it. Marijuana can be laced with other drugs such as crack cocaine or PCP, he said.

Dailey listed many slang terms for marijuana, its ability to impair a teen’s attention and coordination, how it contributes to accidents and some signs to watch for in teens – such as red eyes, dizziness or impaired short term memory.

Dailey said that weight gain, panic attacks and lung irritations are some of the effects of the drug on a teen’s body; and that some teens use it due to having seen family members use the drug as well as a perceived low risk.

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