The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 14, 2014

Coalition will continue to point out marijuana's downfalls

By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — Medical marijuana use is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and as more officials continue to push the issue in legislation, local organizations are gearing up to fight back.

Not only have those 20 states and the District of Columbia legalized the use of medical marijuana, but both Colorado and Washington now allow recreational use of the once illegal substance.

Despite a Wednesday ruling from the Iowa Board of Pharmacy to deny the reclassification of marijuana, the local substance abuse awareness group Gateway ImpACT Coalition is still preparing for the battles it will face if the state does pass a measure legalizing medical marijuana.

“This is something we have been working on — something we don’t think is going to go away, so we need to keep our thumb on it,” Gateway ImpACT Executive Director Kristin Huisenga said. “We’re really just trying to have an honest approach to marijuana use.”

The Gateway ImpACT Coalition has now started discussing ways it can counteract the conversations supporting marijuana legalization by adopting a method known as the Smart Approach to Marijuana.

In doing so, Huisenga feels the group will be able to break down myths surrounding marijuana use.

For instance, according to research the Gateway ImpACT Coalition has gathered, one in six teens become addicted to marijuana, statistics show an 8 percent drop in IQ in pot smokers, an increase in “drugged driving” in states that have legalized the substance and an increase in arrests in those states.

“What we’re doing, is trying to find out the best way to address those issues,” Huisenga said.

In accepting that marijuana does possess medical benefits, Huisenga said those benefits don’t have to be attained the way that recreational users of pot get the high.

According to her research, scientists are working to develop less harmful ways for patients to ingest marijuana so they can still benefit from the chemicals that are said to help specific conditions and diseases.

If there is a way to hone in on those properties and remove the psychedelic and addictive nature of marijuana, Huisenga is confident that she and the coalition could get on board to support those medications.

“We’re not trying to demonize or criminalize the medical properties but the chemicals that help don’t have to be smoked or eaten,” Huisenga said. “Scientists and the FDA recognize some of the properties that are beneficial so the coalition would support those things as well.”

In addition to arguing the harmful affects of marijuana use, the coalition is also facing advocates who say the government would not only benefit from taxing the substance but also by reducing the number of people incarcerated from marijuana crimes.

To combat those supporters, Huisenga has a variety of facts and figures she plans on showcasing to show that those benefits are not as strong as people perceive them to be.

“In Colorado for instance, every $1 gained, there is $10 lost in legal, health, social and regulatory costs,” Huisenga said. “And only .4 percent of prisoners without prior convictions are in prison for marijuana-related charges. It’s not really a good argument.”

As attitudes toward marijuana use, whether medical or recreational, continue to soften, the Gateway ImpACT Coalition knows its battles are becoming increasingly more difficult.

But Huisenga is feeling confident that the coalition’s Smart Approach to Marijuana is a strong defense against the growing number of marijuana advocates.

“I think this approach about being honest about marijuana and discussing the facts to counteract the other arguments is really the best method for us,” Huisenga said.