Anti-Marijuana Campaign Is Misguided
County substance abuse campaign concentrates all its spending on “No need for weed.”
Travel enough through the city, and you might notice the slogan “Let’s be Blunt, No Need For Weed” on Milwaukee bus billboards. The campaign has a different ring than the generalized anti-drug, “Above The Influence” commercials my generation grew up with. Both campaigns were created by the Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, or MCSAP. The “No Need for Weed” campaign comes at a time when cannabis use is being legalized in other states, while an unprecedented opioid crisis rages. Why is Milwaukee’s leadership so fixated on marijuana?
MCSAP was founded in 2011 as a county-wide response to drug abuse and prevention. Currently its targets are cannabis use among youth, and prescription pill abuse. MCSAP’s leadership includes 50 members of various professional backgrounds. I emailed MCSAP coordinator Kassandra Brown for further information about the group and its campaign.
The coalition honed in on cannabis after a 2012 Epidemiological report on drug and alcohol use. Compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the 103 page document detailed potential state-wide risks. It did examine marijuana among other drugs, but the executive summary never mentions pot, and instead emphasizes the death toll from alcohol consumption and drunken driving, and “drug-related deaths… due to misuse of prescription drugs.”
The report was an influence on MCSAP: a Powerpoint presentation by the group notes that it began with a focus on alcohol and heroin abuse. But MCSAP’s website notes “after reviewing the data and through ongoing discussions, some Coalition members felt that there was something missing: marijuana.” Their website notes concerns that cannabis has “lifelong consequences (e.g. employment).”
MCSAP, according to Brown, “does not take a stand on legalization” for adults. “Let’s Be Blunt”, MCSAP stated, is solely geared towards minors under 18.
However, when asked if MCSAP feels cannabis use in youth would increase or decrease under legalization, Brown preferred not to comment. Colorado, for example, has seen cannabis use in minors drop since legalization. As for the fact that the 2012 Wisconsin Health Department report deemphasized cannabis, Brown offered no comment. As to the growth in heroin use, Brown says her group understands prescription pill overdose and heroin are related. “Our strategy may change in the future,” she noted.
Yet in a video on MCSAP’s website, Brown states that cannabis and prescription pill issues “go hand in hand.” The non-profit’s powerpoint PDF, in one slide, seemingly relates youth cannabis use and drug-related deaths. Cannabis isn’t known to cause drug overdoses, and has a questionable relationship with opioid deaths. Some legalized states actually now see fewer opioid-related deaths. Colorado has also seen prescription pill use drop by 25 percent. Controlled research has shown that use of medical marijuana can reduce opioid dependence.
The same powerpoint presentation also claims cannabis smokers are twice as likely to get lung cancer. To the contrary, numerous studies suggest cannabis may actually fight lung cancer.
MCSAP’s website provides links to numerous resources, including this graphic on prescription pill use and overdose. It compared how likely heroin users were to first use alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and prescription pills. Whereas the chart claims coke and pills increase your likelihood of trying heroin by 15 times and 40 times respectively, alcohol and cannabis ranked at just 2 times and 3 times. Currently, alcohol is not part of MCSAP’s youth-focused programs though it’s mentioned on its website, and gets by far the most emphasis in the state report. Brown wouldn’t comment on whether MCSAP feels cannabis use in youth influences opioid overdoses.
Nor would Brown say whether MCSAP still regards the “gateway drug” theory as accurate. Cannabis detractors often point to its use as the first stepping stone toward harder drugs. MCSAP’s powerpoint presentation makes direct reference to the cannabis gateway, or “entryway drug” notion.
In fact there is little evidence for this theory. Rather, it’s more likely that keeping cannabis in the black market is what exposes users to other black market drugs.
Although marijuana isn’t legal in Wisconsin, a recent poll by the Marquette University Law School found 59 percent of Wisconsinites, from across a political spectrum, support legalization. CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis-related compound associated with numerous health benefits, is legally obtainable in Milwaukee today.
Organizations like MCSAP play important roles in community outreach and our understanding of drug and alcohol use. Its use of public money on a campaign that ignores the biggest problems of drug use while concentrating on a drug that is far more benign, seems at the very least, misguided, if not downright misleading.
Isiah Holmes, is a writer and videographer.
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