2018-10-25 / Front Page

Both sides of legalizing marijuana

Circuit court judge uses impartial position to outline pros and cons of Proposal 18-1
By Ben Muir


Huron County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Prill leads a forum at the Expo Center in Bad Axe on Tuesday: “In fairness to both sides, I guess I’m acting as a moderator, what I’m doing is just giving you what the pro side is, and you’re going to hear the con side in just a moment.” Huron County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Prill leads a forum at the Expo Center in Bad Axe on Tuesday: “In fairness to both sides, I guess I’m acting as a moderator, what I’m doing is just giving you what the pro side is, and you’re going to hear the con side in just a moment.” Families Against Narcotics (FAN), which opposes Proposal 1, conducted a video forum in Detroit on Tuesday, which was shown at the Expo Center at the fairgrounds in Bad Axe.

In the forum, each side got about 15 minutes to explain why they were for or against Proposal 18-1, which would legalize cannabis by allowing the possession, use and cultivation of marijuana by individuals who are at least 21 years old in Michigan.

Three representatives, including two doctors, spoke on why they are in favor of the proposal.

Three representatives argued against legalizing marijuana, which included a doctor and a one-time Colorado resident.

Afterward, Judge Gerald Prill, of the Huron County Circuit Court, which can’t take a position on the issue, moderated the Bad Axe forum to discuss the pros and cons.

All of the seven local people who attended in Bad Axe were against Proposal 1.

On the pros

The coalition to pass Proposal 18-1 focuses on five chief points. Prohibition of marijuana has not worked and, if it were legalized, law enforcement’s time and resources would be better spent on issues like the opioid crisis. Tax revenue would increase dramatically in Michigan if 18-1 passes, representatives argue. Legalizing marijuana would make clinical trials of the drug more permissive and less hindered. And, recreational marijuana would help treat military veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

After Prill showed the video - which was muddled and at times difficult to hear - to the Huron County residents at the Expo Center in Bad Axe, he outlined their position with a presentation.

“The crime rate has gone up, and with that individuals are jailed for marijuana - that jails are full,” said Prill, echoing the argument for 18-1 by using their first point that says prohibition hasn’t worked. “Prohibition is wasting the time of law enforcement and the money involved because we’re focusing so much on marijuana. We’re not focusing on the opioid epidemic that is so crucial and so vital and so relevant in our society.”

Prill then discussed the argument that legalizing marijuana would increase tax revenue. At the FAN forum, the representatives used Colorado and Nevada as examples, both states that have passed similar proposals.

“According to their statements,” Prill said, “Colorado state tax revenue has grown $500 million since 2014 (note: this was disputed later by residents at the meeting). In Nevada alone in it’s first year: $70 million of tax revenue.”

Representatives argued that cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco, and one doctor at the forum from the University of Michigan said marijuana is safer than caffeine. And, that it would cut down on harmful synthetic substitutes to marijuana. Moreover, the for side said marijuana is more of an exit drug than a gateway, meaning it could act as a stepping stone away from more harmful substances.

“This is what their side is,” Prill said. “Well one of the comments they made that I didn’t add, and I should have probably added in fairness to them, was it’s your body, you can do it with it what you wish.”

Indeed, representatives at the FAN forum argued the side of personal freedom, while saying there would be strong regulations and a robust licensing procedure to retailers, to “make sure they are responsible and regulated.”

On the cons

The side against Proposal 1 said they’re not necessarily anti-cannabis, but there’s still not enough supporting data to enact a sweeping legalization of it in Michigan. They entertained the idea of decriminalizing marijuana instead. They also argued there is an association between change in marijuana laws and car crashes in places like Colorado where a similar proposal has passed. And, that marijuana isn’t necessarily safer than alcohol - it’s simply different - they’re both imperative agents.

After hearing both sides in the Detroit video forum, Huron County residents - most in the medical or law enforcement fields - spent time responding to claims made by the side that supports Proposal 18-1, as Prill moderated.

“I have to be impartial on it,” Prill said, “because as a court this is an amendment to the constitution. This is a decision to be made by the voters, so I’m not here to influence either way.”

One local resident addressed the claim that marijuana is an “exit” drug and not a gateway drug. He said it’s hardly an exit drug when teenagers are using marijuana at, say, 14 and 16 years old.

That’s when Todd Kalaska, who’s a parole officer in the Huron County Circuit Court, said nearly every felon he supervises who uses drugs started with marijuana.

“I still don’t necessarily buy that it’s a gateway drug - that if you use marijuana you’re going to use something else” Kalaska said. “I’ll use the story that one of my clients told me: he considers it a gateway drug because it is basically an introduction to the drug culture.”

Kalaska also addressed the claim that ending the prohibition on marijuana has freed law enforcement to spend money and time on combating issues like the opioids, fentanyl and heroin.

“In Colorado they’re busier than ever because of all the different regulations that go with that law, people don’t follow them,” Kalaska said on the state’s legalization of cannabis. “Minors are using marijuana, adults are possessing too much, selling it when they don’t have a license.”

Ruth Schwendinger, a prevention specialist with Huron Behavioral Health, then responded to a claim that marijuana can reduce depression and anxiety.

“That’s something that’s hugely cautioned against,” Schwendinger said. “From a medical standpoint, habitual marijuana use leads to an increase in anxiety.”

Clark Elftman, who was a Huron County commissioner from approximately 2005 to 2016, disputed the claim that legalizing marijuana would skyrocket tax revenues, helping schools, roads and scientific research, for example.

“[Colorado’s] tax revenue is far less than what they are saying,” Elftman said.

Schwendinger added, “The taxes that were from tobacco that were supposed to go to schools and to prevention programs; there’s 0.06 percent of that that’s actually going where they said it was going to go.”

Jack Jensen, who was the chief of police in Caseville for roughly 13 years, expressed concern for how law enforcement would screen for marijuana as they do with alcohol tests.

“If they legalize it,” Jensen said, “and somebody violates the law, there’s no instrument out there for law enforcement officers to measure on the street. So how are you really going to enforce it? You can’t take everybody to the hospital and do a blood draw.”

Prill responded: “They are developing, but we’re not there yet.”

At the end of the local forum, Prill noted that the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals (MATCP) is opposing Proposal 18-1.

“Every dangerous and addictive drug was once believed to be safe and medicinal,” MATCP wrote in a statement, “cocaine, heroin, opiate pain medication and nicotine were once advertised as being good for you, or at least not harmful. In every instance, we learned otherwise - the hard way.” For more information on why MATCP is opposing 18-1: www.matcp.org/no-on-proposal-1.html.

STATE PROPOSAL 18-1

A proposed initiated law to authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age and older, and commercial sales of marijuana through state-licensed retailers

This proposal would:

• Allow individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles,

and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption.

• Impose a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at residences and require amounts over 2.5 ounces be secured in locked containers.

• Create a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them.

• Permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles subject to a 10% tax, dedicated to implementation costs, clinical trials, schools, roads, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located.

• Change several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.

Should this proposal be adopted?

[ ] YES [ ] NO

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