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Posted: 05/07/14

NWMPC learns of
marijuana problems

Observer Staff Writer
      Macomb County officials are continuing to relay the message that marijuana is a problem for northern Macomb County.
       This idea was reinforced by John Ange, chief of the juvenile division for the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office, as he spoke with the Northwest Macomb Prevention Coalition (NWMPC) last month about drug trends in the local area.
       The NWMPC is made up of prevention specialists, law enforcement agencies, school administrators and parents from Romeo, Richmond and Armada. The coalition's goal is to educate the communities about drug and alcohol issues among youths.
       Ange said there is a tendency to think that smaller communities do not have the same problems or concerns as bigger cities.
       "It's not that it's the opposite, but it couldn't be further from the truth," he said. "It's the exact same, it's just proportionate."
       Ange said Michigan's legalization of medical marijuana remains one of the largest issues, as it causes youths to not consider the consequences of using it.
       "All of a sudden they hear adults on TV or in their homes or anywhere else really talk about marijuana as if it was frivolous," he said. "We did see an up-turn in use and possession of marijuana cases."
       Ange's thoughts confirmed what the NWMPC heard in March from two members of the Macomb County Sheriff's Special Enforcement Team (SET) that said medical marijuana grow operations are causing problems in northern Macomb County.
       Ange said he understands the advocates for medical marijuana aren't all zealots trying to legalize marijuana, but it legitimized the use of a drug that is otherwise illegal and could cause more youths to pursue its use when debates about legalization come forth.
       "I think in the next year or two it's going to really escalate to get marijuana legalized in the state," he said. "You're going to see an explosion of kids trying to get their hands on marijuana."
       He pointed to a recent study from Northwestern University on why marijuana use among youths is harmful. The study focused on 20 casual users and 20 who didn't use the drug at all.
       The study found changes to the nucleus accumbens and nucleus amygdala -- regions in the brain that regulate emotion and motivation that are also linked to some mental illnesses.
       The study received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
       "It's a mixed-up generation that is going to happen," said Joe Thayer, prevention specialist with Macomb Family Services. "They think that it's okay, yet we have scientific proof that it's not."
       Ange said there are some positive impacts that have been shown for medical marijuana use, and to pretend there aren't benefits worsens an argument against it. For instance, in 2013 a young girl named Charlotte Figi in Colorado saw her severe seizures halt with marijuana treatments.
       Even so, Ange said such uses are limited and are often highlighted by the media, giving kids mixed signals.
       "If you pretend it doesn't exist and then they see it, you lose all credibility," he said.
       Judge Denis LeDuc of the 42-1 District Court said he views drug use as a gateway process, and with each barrier that is torn down -- trying beer underage or smoking marijuana -- makes it easier to break down the next one.
       "I see it quite graphically because I see all this stuff on the complete criminal history of someone," he said. "I'm looking at someone in front of me on credit card fraud or auto theft, and now they're either on pills or full-blown heroin, and you can't convince me there is not a relationship."
       Along the lines of legal ramifications, Ange pointed out that a use or possession of drug charge effectively kills the ability of a youth trying to obtain a student loan or join the military.
       Ange said aside marijuana issues, he is seeing a spike in domestic violence. He said juvenile cases involving the crime has been on the rise in the county, with about 70 percent of the cases he handles having to do with some form of it.
       He said when a child is showing signs of violence, he recommended that the family intervene with counseling or other methods prior to governmental involvement.
       "The last thing they want to do is end up in the system at that young of age," he said. "Once you're caught up in it, the costs alone are a distraction from really focusing on the issues."

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