MA: Warnings In Wayland About Recreational Marijuana

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Panelists at a community forum Tuesday night said allowing recreational marijuana businesses in town will create a variety of different headaches.

Health problems, especially for adolescents, and increased risk of fatal car accidents were some of the warnings given by a panel of town officials and doctors at the Town Building.

Wayland voted by a razor-thin margin to legalize recreational marijuana in Massachusetts. The November 2016 vote was 4,268-4,189 in support of ballot Question 4. The measure passed statewide.

Now, Wayland is trying to figure out if retail pot is a good fit for the town.

Voters established a moratorium at fall Town Meeting that expires at the end of this year. The measure gives the town time to develop regulations on pot sales.

State law says a town that supported Question 4 can opt out of retail marijuana by taking two steps – a vote at Town Meeting and another at the ballot box.

The point of Tuesday night’s forum was to get resident feedback.

Wayland has three choices, selectmen Chairwoman Lea Anderson said.

Anderson moderated the forum, and said Wayland could do nothing, and expect the possibility a retail pot business could come to town. It could enact a full ban, which requires a majority vote at the polls and a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting. The final option is a partial ban, where Wayland could allow some retail establishments, like growing or cultivation facilities, while banning others, like retail shops. That option requires a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting.

Police Chief Patrick Swanick, a panelist, told a story that brought the marijuana problem close to home.

He said firefighters responded to an emergency call in April in which a 15-year-old Wayland resident was unresponsive after taking a hit from a “dab pen” at a party, Swanick said.

Swanick also worries that there is no roadside test for measuring the amount of pot in the blood, like a Breathalyzer for alcohol.

Health impacts of smoking marijuana were mentioned by Dr. John Schuler, co-chairman of the Wayland Board of Health. The chemical compound that gives pot smokers the feeling of being high – TCH (tetrahydrocannabinol) – is more potent today than than 20 years ago, Schuler said.

“TCH in marijuana is habit forming and addictive,” Schuler said. Decreased memory and increased anxiety are side effects of smoking marijuana, he said.

Schuler and Swanick mentioned studies in Colorado and Washington state that prove marijuana combined with other drugs has caused an increase in fatal car accidents.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Glenn Davis told the Daily News there were 51 traffic fatalities in 2016 with an impaired level of cannabis in the blood system. That compares to 19 annually in 2014 and 2015. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and sales began in January 2014.

In Washington, fatalities connected to a combination of drugs in the blood system jumped 15 percent annually over the past five years, Shelly Baldwin, media director at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, told the Daily News. Baldwin said the most common combination of drugs is alcohol and marijuana.

“If Wayland votes to legalize some part of marijuana business…it will bring nothing but headaches and potential disaster to residents of Wayland,” Schuler said.

Increased access to pot if Wayland allows pot shops, and the related message it sends to youth that it’s acceptable to smoke marijuana, was a warning delivered by Jason Verhoosky, director of Youth and Family Services.

Dr. Eden Evans, director of the Mass General Hospital Center for Addiction told residents, “this is not the pot you’re used to.”

Like Schuler, she warned of the drug’s potency and appeal to young people. Evans said “juuling” is popular in Concord, where her daughter goes to school. The pot smoking device is hidden in a student’s hand and the smoke is blown into a the hood of a sweatshirt, unseen by authorities. Evans said Concord students are juuling in her daughter’s Spanish class.

A resident told the panel “trauma” in families is the underlying reason for drug addiction, and it’s not being addressed by health professionals.

Another said there is significant international data available from countries that legalized marijuana years ago. This data, he said, would help Massachusetts, and towns like Wayland, develop sound pot policy.

One resident wanted to know what Wayland schools do to prepare students when they’re confronted with drugs.

“There is a tremendous amount of prevention and harm-reduction information (in the schools),” Verhoosky said. “We’re doing our best to educate students, develop strict substance-use policies, and help promote the healthiest decisions possible for youth.”