Marijuana Harmless? Think Again

On November 18, 2014, The Science and the Experiment Conference on marijuana use brought 370 Arizona leaders, educators, law enforcement, and prevention specialists together to learn the scientific facts about how marijuana affects the brain and what is happening with the Colorado legalization experiment. The event was hosted by the Marijuana Harmless? Think Again! Program developed by MATFORCE, a Yavapai County, Arizona, coalition committed to working in partnership to build healthier communities by eliminating substance abuse and its effects. Among youth, marijuana use is on the rise. The conference addressed the need to educate Arizona communities on the true harm of marijuana. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) studies show that marijuana is an addictive substance that affects the brain – especially in children – in ways that may impair intelligence, reasoning, judgment and clarity of thought. Sheila Polk, the Yavapai County Attorney in Prescott, Arizona, opened the conference. Polk, citing a recent Arizona Youth Survey sponsored by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, noted: We can see that one out of five Arizona twelfth grade students is a regular marijuana user. Also, the survey shows that eighth, tenth and twelfth grade students are using marijuana more often than cigarettes. Science proves that marijuana is harmful, especially to young people. Yet many people falsely think that marijuana is safe. We need to change that thinking for the good of our state and the future of our children. With the effort underway to legalize marijuana in Arizona, many are standing on the side of decreasing drug use and are taking action against legalization. These include state leaders, parents, educators, healthcare professionals, behavioral health professionals, prevention specialists and law enforcement who are standing on the side of decreasing drug use and are taking action against legalization. The morning session featured keynote speakers including Tom Gorman, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Gorman described details of the experiment and discussed the problems occurring in Colorado due to the legalization of marijuana. Neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Dewey explained the science behind addiction and that the brain may be permanently changed by the use of marijuana. Another speaker during the morning session was Sally Schindel, whose presentation was called “Helping Andy Help Others.” Schindel told the story of her son Andy’s marijuana addiction. To raise awareness about the risks of marijuana addiction, Sally described Andy’s struggle to recover. Andy died by suicide in 2014, leaving a note saying, “Marijuana killed my soul and ruined my brain.” Six afternoon breakout sessions gave participants the opportunity to learn about the impact of deregulation, as well as to learn more about the medical, legal, youth, crime, drug cartel and big money aspects of marijuana use. Bill Montgomery, the Maricopa County Attorney in Phoenix, Arizona, delivered the closing statements. Montgomery called on all who are concerned about the future of Arizona and our children to take action. He said, “I know that when people know the true facts, they will do the right thing. Legalization of marijuana, which is a harmful and addictive drug, will cause great harm to our future generations.” Attorney Montgomery added, “When people openly talk about the real harms of marijuana, they are standing up for what is right and best for our children.” Sheila Polk added, “We believe that every child can succeed, and we want to make every effort to make that possible. Marijuana puts yet one more obstacle in the lives of our children.” Polk encouraged all to take an active role in the Marijuana Harmless? Think Again! movement.

The standing-room-only conference brought people together from throughout the state. The event was sponsored by the Arizona Chapter of The American Academy of Pediatrics, Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care, Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority, Arizonans for Prevention, Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Arizona Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Prevention Works, Students Against Destructive Decisions and MATFORCE.
The second annual Marijuana: The Science and the Experiment conference will be held on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Register today at Keynote speakers include addiction psychiatrist Christian Thurstone, MD; Madeline Meier, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University and Christine Miller, PhD in pharmacology. The conference is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the drug marijuana. If your state is facing similar issues, consult and the MATFORCE website, for further information. Merilee Fowler is the Executive Director of MATFORCE, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition. Under her leadership, MATFORCE has achieved success in reducing community substance abuse. MATFORCE was named the 2013 Coalition of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.