Coalitions in Action: California Coalition Says Federal Action on Marijuana Can Help Reduce Youth Use

Oct 20, 2011
Coalition resources: Coalition Stories
Drug type: Marijuana

A recent federal crackdown by four United States attorneys on medical marijuana dispensaries offers some hope of relief in a California county. Conflicting or difficult to interpret state and federal laws and regulations have made it challenging for local-level advocates working to reduce youth substance use and abuse.

Nevada County, nestled in the pristine Sierra Nevada mountain range, is in the midst of the marijuana, harvest season, and children regularly come to school reeking of reefer. The Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County, like many others in the state, has collaborated with their county on marijuana policies including instituting a ban on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries within the county. However, as medical marijuana increased in public acceptance, perceptions about the drug’s harm have been reduced among young people in their community, say coalition members.

News of a federal crackdown could not have come at a better time, said CADCA member and program coordinator, Shelley Rogers. Rogers and her colleagues said an aerial view of the county exposes pot grows almost everywhere.

“In law enforcement, our resources are so low that we can’t even begin to address the full scope of the problem,” said coalition member Rex Marks, a Grass Valley Police Captain.

Captain Marks has received numerous complaints from residents about marijuana odor in their neighborhoods and his office fields calls from other law enforcement agencies outside the state weekly regarding people in possession of crops or proceeds.

“I think the federal crackdown is a huge step forward”, Marks said, “So many of these laws conflict, state and federal.”

Coalition member and County District Attorney Cliff Newell, agreed, “It (the recent federal action) helps with the perception that marijuana is dangerous to our community because what has been happening around here is an exploitation of the medical marijuana laws.”

The recently-released 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey revealed the perceived harm for smoking marijuana occasionally or regularly has been decreasing among students in the 8th grade since 2007.

The enforcement effort is aimed at curtailing the large, for-profit marijuana industry that has developed since the passage of California’s Proposition 215 in 1996.

Business owner and coalition member, Lindsay Marich, said marijuana has become more socially acceptable as their community has made it easier to grow, possess or consume.

“Use of marijuana is blatant, so normalized, even in the workplace,” she said.

The coalition receives calls regularly from business owners and homeowners expressing their concern and frustration. The Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County works with local businesses to institute a Certified Drug Free Workplace campaign. Coalition members applaud the recent decisive actions by the federal government, saying that they lend legitimacy to local substance abuse prevention advocates.

Through continued community collaboration at both the local and state level and with the federal government enforcing laws, “we aim to increase the perception of the drug’s harm among youth, and reduce youth use,” said Ariel Lovett, Program Director.

Warren Daniels, CEO of Community Recovery Resources, a non-profit treatment provider, said there are more teens in treatment for marijuana use than ever before. “It’s cash crop in our community… From the treatment angle we see it from a multi-generational perspective, and we are working to reverse the effect on teens,” he said.

The coalition members feel that more research will also help them in their local effort to reduce marijuana use, citing a Columbia University study released this month that drivers who test positive for marijuana or report driving within three hours of marijuana use are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in crashes. They will use sound research like this during an upcoming town hall meeting that will include a lawyer, insurance provider, law enforcement, and an “MD addictionologist” to talk with homeowners associations, parents, and business owners about local-level strategies.

While the coalition continues to “re-educate” their community about the dangers of marijuana at the local and state levels, they have been successful with getting prescription drugs out of the hands of youth through their model Safe Disposal program. The county currently has two permanent Safe Disposal Sites that have collected 45 pounds a week at a police station and 90 at a Kmart pharmacy. On National Take Back Day Oct. 29th, they will kick off the grand opening for two new sites, totaling four public disposal sites in Nevada County. Save Mart and Rite Aid Pharmacies join Kmart Pharmacy and Grass Valley Police Department as drop-off locations.

Rogers concludes, “We commend these businesses for being partners in the fight against the prescription drug abuse epidemic. As one of the only counties in the state to successfully establish permanent disposal sites, Nevada County’s Safe Disposal Program is a model for other counties.”