With Gibsonburg building a medical marijuana facility and Fremont getting a dispensary, one local police chief said he does not believe medical marijuana will negatively impact Sandusky County.
In fact, Gibsonburg Police Chief Paul Whitaker called medical marijuana “wonderful” and said it could make a dent in the opioid epidemic that has killed dozens in the county, overpopulated local jails and torn families apart.
“I think most people that are getting addicted to heroin are getting addicted from taking opioids prescribed to them,” Whitaker said in a recent interview.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office said during a March 2017 opioid conference that four out of every five heroin addicts got hooked after getting a legal prescription for pain medication.
No ‘clear and present danger’
“I don’t believe it presents a clear and present danger,” Whitaker said of medicinal marijuana.
Ohioans with certain medical conditions will soon be able to obtain a doctor’s recommendation to purchase medical marijuana.
Many questions still remain about Ohio’s new medicinal marijuana industry, but In Michigan, where it’s been legal for a decade, the medicinal cannabis sells for about $10-20 a gram and $200-300 an ounce.
It will be illegal to smoke the plant form of medical marijuana in Ohio, but dispensaries like the one in Fremont will offer medical marijuana lotions, edibles and oils.
Personally, Whitaker said he does not endorse recreational use, but said there are many benefits to using medical marijuana, with around 21 medical conditions now qualifying for medical marijuana treatment.
Right now medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, plus the District of Columbia. Whitaker believes the moratorium in many states will eventually be lifted and that all states will make medicinal marijuana available.
Weigh the benefits
“Personally, we need to look at the balance of benefits of what this can do,” he said. “Some use prescription opioids because they are legal and then get hooked on it.”
As medical marijuana becomes more available and more products are created to satisfy the demand, Whitaker believes there could be a black market for medical marijuana.
“There will be a black market for anything that sells,” Whitaker said.
But the chief believes the ability to use medicinal cannabis as a treatment for pain or terminal disease outweighs the risks of a potential illegal drug trade.
“I think you are going to get less prescribing of opioids by doctors,” Whitaker said. “The biggest difference between this and opioids is the presence of the morphine molecule in opioids. It is unlike any other addiction, like alcohol, gambling or drugs. It’s more addicting than love.”
Whitaker believes medical marijuana will have a short- and long-term impact on the county.
“First, it’s a new business in Gibsonburg and in the county, and we can’t police without tax money,” Whitaker said.
The cultivation facility being constructed at the Clearview Industrial Park, one of 25 statewide, is expected to have 40 to 50 new jobs paying between $12 and $20 per hour with administrative jobs paying around $100,000 per year.
$50 million investment
The 50,000-square-foot Standard Wellness facility is expected to infuse the local economy with a $50 million investment over the next 10 years.
Looking at the long-term impact of medical marijuana, Whitaker said he believes it to be an alternative treatment for those afflicted with terminal illness.
“One of the things we know it does is it improves appetite, and for people with terminal illness, it can help them live a little longer, because many people that die of terminal illness die from being malnourished.”
Though Whitaker is among the public officials in favor of medical marijuana coming to Sandusky County, some fear that it may have a negative impact on the community.
Stacey Gibson, director of health and planning education for the Sandusky County Health Department, said marijuana use in the county is a concern.
Among youth in grades 6 through 12, 11 percent reported using marijuana at least once within a 30-day period during a 2016 community health survey. That number was up from 8 percent who said they had used marijuana in a survey the department conducted in 2013.
Marcie Seidel, executive director of the nonprofit Prevention Action Alliance, said medical marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Seidel in April spoke to a group of community members concerned with medical marijuana coming to Ohio.
Because the FDA has not approved medical marijuana, Seidel said doctors can only recommend and not prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients.
Limits on potency
Medicinal marijuana will have restrictions on potency that will be divided into two tiers.
Tier 1 medical marijuana can only have a potency of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that gives users a high, of 23 percent or lower.
For Tier 2, potency can reach no more than 35 percent THC.
Seidel said she is concerned about the possibility of increased traffic crashes and more failed drug tests for employers.
“In Colorado, traffic deaths doubled for drivers positive with marijuana,” Seidel said. “Patients should wait six to eight hours after ingestion before driving.”
Drivers who tested positive for marijuana use in traffic crashes in Colorado — where recreational marijuana became legal in 2012 — rose 145 percent from 47 in 2013 to 115 in 2016, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Employers will not have to make special accommodations for workers using medical marijuana, Seidel said, saying employers can establish drug-free workplaces and cannot be sued for adverse action taken against medical marijuana use.
Whitaker said he believes that as medicinal marijuana use expands, there will be a risk of more abuse or impaired driving cases, but he did not foresee the same type of abuse of medical marijuana as alcohol or other drugs.
“I don’t see the abuse that some might suggest will come,” Whitaker said. “At least no more than you see with alcohol. You see more abuse of alcohol, more fights from it and more property damage cases.”
State laws on impaired driving will not change in regard to those who drive under the influence of medical marijuana, according to Ohio Attorney General Spokesman Dan Tierney.