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Two local advocates for substance abuse prevention spoke during Wednesday’s virtual “Impaired Driving and an Overview of Cannabis” webinar.

The program was offered by Think First, which is sponsored by General Motors.

The speakers were Michigan State Trooper Don Stewart of Monroe and Vicky Loveland, development coordinator for the Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition.

The pair spoke for about an hour to roughly 50 participants who attended from all areas.

Trooper Stewart has been with the Michigan State Police for 24 years, 11 of those in Monroe.

Michigan voters approved medical marijuana in 2008, and recreational marijuana use was voted-in in 2018. Stewart said that marijuana detection, enforcement and prosecution have posed difficulties ever since for law enforcement and the courts.  

Current law allows residents to hold 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.

“It’s very difficult for law enforcement,” Stewart said. “What does 2 ½ ounces actually look like? It’s the size of a full freezer bag. That doesn’t include stems and twigs (from leaves). It became very troubling for us. If you have any type of product made with marijuana, (law enforcement) have to start doing math. It really became a chemistry class for law enforcement. We are running all these variable, all while standing on the side of the road.”

Another problem is there are no established legal limits for marijuana.

“Alcohol has a state legal limit of .08,” Stewart said. “Over that, you’re intoxicated. For alcohol we have breath tests. There is nothing like this for marijuana. Marijuana metabolizes differently in the system. That changes the whole game. We don’t have a presumptive level. It’s very, very murky.”

Instead, observation is key.

“Observation of the driving and personal statements (from the driver), these are crucial,” Stewart said. “How much of an affect does the THC affect the driving? What do we smell, observe and see? Everything comes down to the observation.”

Drug recognition experts also can be called to a scene to do more extensive testing.

“They are able to detect things that officers just can’t,” Stewart said.

“It’s a very new territory,” he added. “The big takeaway is how do we make the use of this product more responsible? That’s the key every law enforcement officer is looking for.”

A viewer asked if crime rates have dropped since the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“There’s been no downturn; If anything, crime is on the rise,” Stewart said. “There’s an uptick in criminal activity for breaking and entering, home invasion, larceny.”

Stewart noted that the pandemic could also be a cause of the uptick in crime.

The Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition began in 2006 with grant funding. Today, it’s sustained through regional funding. Its prime focus is the prevention and reduction of substance abuse among young people.

Loveland said the organization offers many presentations around the community, on topics such as underage drinking, prescription drug abuse, nicotine and impaired driving.

“We go into the community. Don (Stewart) is part of some of them. We try to share the message,” Loveland said.

She provided a brief overview of cannabis, including the two strains, sativa and indica. Sativa is for daytime use; indica is recommended for nighttime and pain.

She also talked about marijuana concentrates, which have names like dab, brittle, butter, crumb and wax. 

“With each of these concentrates, they are all very much higher in TCH, 40 to 90 percent. There is much less in leaf marijuana,” Loveland said.

She easily found YouTube videos about extracting marijuana concentrate from plants.

“The takeaway is how easy it is for our youth to access this type of video,” Loveland said.

She also discussed edibles and found some with names like “Nerds Rope” and “Cookie Jar.”

“All of these are really marketed toward our youth,” Loveland said.

A problem with edibles is dosage.

“It takes a lot longer to feel impairment. It goes through your system; it’s not going into the blood immediately.1 to 5 mg of THC is for first-time users and those new to edibles, while 20 mg is for seasoned consumers with a high THC tolerance. One chocolate bar might be 100 mg. ¼ of a cookie might be the serving size. It’s really important to get this message out there. Dispensaries are doing a good job educating customers,” Loveland said.

Parents, she said, should be observant, as some marijuana concealment devices look like ordinary items, such as a Carmex lip balm container or a can of Pringles.

Her office and the Monroe County Health Department offer “Secure Your Cannabis” locking bags. So far more than 600 have been distributed to local families and through dispensaries.

“Weed Can Wait,” a guide for parents to talk to children about marijuana, also is available.

For more information on the Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition, visit https://www.facebook.com/substance.abuse.Monroe.County

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