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Viewpoint: Why the rush for a cannabis referendum without victim or expert input?

By Darla Meyers, Town of St. Joseph

On June 18, the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors Administration Committee voted 4-1 to bring a cannabis referendum before the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors for their general meeting in August. There are many concerns that all taxpayers and parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and acquaintances who have had a loved die from an opioid/meth overdose or deal with an addiction regarding this potential referendum.

The motives of Supervisors Moothedan, Sjoberg, Peterson and Leibfried need to be questioned. Why is it that these four supervisors voted to deny taxpayers a referendum option for the $27 million maintenance building, but this cannabis referendum that could endanger lives is worthy of a referendum?

Other questions needing to be asked: Why did the majority Administration Committee bypass expert testimony on this cannabis referendum and rely solely on a dubious source like the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, discounting the St. Croix County Health and Human Services, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Care and Treatment Services, Bureau of Treatment, Prevention, and Recovery? Why is this cannabis referendum being rushed through so quickly? Was the public aware of this potential referendum for November before the Administration Committee meeting June 18?

There is an important Wisconsin Department of Health document that is available to everyone online titled "Marijuana in Wisconsin: Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Committee, Marijuana Ad-hoc Committee" June 26, 2016. Why was this document missing from the Administration Committee's information? Watch the Administration Committee video at: www.stcroixcountywi.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingI..., and note the almost panicked response of Tammy Moothedan when a clarification was asked whether the referendum should move forward to the Board before receiving input from the Public Safety and St. Croix County Health and Human Services.

Every day we are subjected to the horrors of the opioid/meth epidemic in our country. The question needs to be answered: Has anyone taken the time to talk to the loved ones of those who have died of a drug overdose or needed treatment as to what was the root cause of their addiction? Was there a gateway drug? After reading this report, there should be no doubt that this potentially dangerous cannabis referendum should not be advanced. The double standard of feigning concern for the opioid/meth epidemic and discounting the potential marijuana danger is troubling. Even if adults were allowed to legally ingest marijuana, what about the children in the home who would have no choice as to their exposure? Claims of ignorance are not acceptable.

Please contact your St. Croix County Board Supervisor and all the Supervisors at https://www.sccwi.gov/483/Districts-Supervisors

Here are some selected excerpts from the expert/doctor/police panel that provided the "Marijuana in Wisconsin" report:

In conclusion, the committee agrees with the following statement: "Colorado and Washington serve as experimental labs for the nation to determine the impact of legalizing marijuana. This is an important opportunity to gather and examine meaningful data and facts. Citizens and policymakers may want to delay any decisions on this important issue until there is sufficient and accurate data to make an informed decision" (RMHIDTA).

Prevention—As demonstrated throughout this report, marijuana is not harmless. The previous sections of this report highlight the adverse effects that marijuana use can have on both mental and physical health. Despite this growing body of knowledge, marijuana continues to increase in popularity as both a mind-altering substance and an unapproved, unregulated "herbal" remedy. This section of the report focuses primarily on the need to prevent the initiation of marijuana use by adolescents. Targeting prevention efforts to this age group is critical for preventing the negative health and social outcomes experienced by adults who began using during their teen years. Preventing Teen Marijuana Use Must be a Priority As shown in Figure 12, marijuana is the second most commonly initiated substance by teens in Wisconsin (SAMHSA, 2015). Looking exclusively at substance use disorders, it is estimated that approximately 9 percent of those older than 18 who experiment with marijuana will become addicted. This rate goes up to nearly 17 percent among those who begin using as teenagers, and between 25 percent and 50 percent for young people who develop a daily pattern of use (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014).

Progression from Marijuana to Other Substance Use—Scientists have explored the influence of early marijuana use on the eventual use of other illicit drugs. While the term "gateway drug" has been controversial, research findings strongly suggest that adolescent marijuana use can contribute to increased curiosity and willingness to try other substances; marijuana use during adolescence may also sensitize the brain's reward-system and make one more likely to use other drugs. A recently published study of over 6,500 adults who started marijuana use before using any other drug found that nearly 45 percent progressed to other illicit drug use in their lives, a rate that is significantly higher than the general population (Secades-Villa, GarciaRodriguez, Jin, Wang, & Blanco, 2015; IJDP 2015). While the study did confirm marijuana's "gateway" effect, it also uncovered risk factors that predicted who was most vulnerable to making the transition to other drugs, a finding that the researchers hope will inform prevention and early intervention efforts. The presence of any of the following increased the likelihood that initiating substance use with marijuana would lead to other illicit drug use: mood disorder, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, personality disorder, and family history of substance use disorder (Secades-Villa et al., 2015). Other Vulnerable Populations Studies looking at the impact of toxic stress on the developing brain strongly suggest that children and adolescents who have experienced adverse childhood experiences are at increased risk for adopting unhealthy coping strategies including early initiation of marijuana use (Anda & Brown, 2010). Additional information on this relationship and adverse childhood experiences can be found in Appendix E.

In addition to individuals who experience adverse childhood experiences, individuals within other groups may also be at increased risk for experiencing the harmful effects of marijuana use. For the purpose of this report, vulnerable individuals are those who do not have access to evidence-based prevention services and/or are unable to make fully informed decisions for themselves. This vulnerability can result from developmental problems, personal incapacities, disadvantaged social status, inadequacy of interpersonal networks and supports, degraded neighborhoods and environments, and the complex interactions of these factors throughout the lifespan (Mechani & Tanner, 2007). ..."

Cannabinoid Research Recommendations

Recommendation 1: Cannabis, cannabinoid pharmaceuticals and cannabis/cannabinoid delivery systems should be subject to the same rigorous standards for approval that are applicable to other prescription medications and medical devices and should not be available for use by patients until such a time as they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Recommendation 2: The state and federal government should encourage and promote further research and development focused on the study of specific pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoid compounds and preparations (including whole plant preparations) for various clinical applications.

After clinical trial studies are conducted to determine the benefits and long-term side effects of marijuana use on health, laws should only be considered that:

• Are limited in scope to individuals with identified conditions shown through research to benefit from the medicinal properties of marijuana plant extracts. • Provide clear guidelines for dosing amounts. • Provide consistent quality control testing of the cannabinoid dosing and additives. • Identify restrictions on packaging and distribution that are equivalent to any other prescribed medication.

Recommendation 3: Smoked cannabis is not a safe delivery system for cannabinoids, and should not be legalized in any form since it appears to have similar clinical efficacy via inhalation (vaporized route), sublingual, and oral routes which are safer, and that may have decreased abuse potential.

Recommendation 4: Non-pharmaceutical grade oral formulations ("edibles") and oral formulations are not approved by the FDA and should not be permitted. There is significant variability in dosing between samples, inconsistent distribution of cannabinoids and there are current FDA-approved oral cannabinoids by prescription, in the form of Dronabinol (Marinol®) and Nabilone (Cesament®).

Recommendation 5: Cannabis and cannabis extract(s) for use in individuals younger than age 21 should not be legalized in any form unless specifically FDA approved. A growing body of evidence links early cannabis exposure with neurobiological brain abnormalities, an increased risk of addiction, potential to be a gateway drug leading to other drug abuse, permanent neurocognitive decline, lower school performance, and compromised lifetime achievement.

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