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Kids' Use of Medical Marijuana Stirs Debate

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Only 52 people under age 18 legally use medical marijuana in Montana.

That's not even 2 percent of the total. Yet the debate over its future keeps circling back to kids.

"The No. 1 goal is to reduce access and availability to the young people of this state that are being sent an incorrect message that this is an acceptable product for them to be using," Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said recently in arguing for repeal of Montana's medical marijuana law by the 2011 Legislature.

"It's a serious problem, no doubt about it," Jim Gingery, executive director of the Montana Medical Growers Association, said of marijuana use by young people. "We absolutely believe in protecting children."

Proponents of medical marijuana - they prefer the term "therapeutic cannabis" - cite that tiny percentage as proof that the state's 2004 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana has had little effect on teen marijuana use.

"For the illegal street drug marijuana, it's been a problem and remains a problem," Gingery said. But he said, "There's very, very few cases of medical cannabis found in schools."

One of those cases occurred earlier this month at DeSmet School in Missoula, where at least four eighth-graders ate cookies baked with marijuana-laced butter allegedly provided by 18-year-old Willard High student Tyler Pyle, a medical marijuana cardholder.

An anomaly, said Gingery. The real problem, he said, lies in parents' medicine cabinets. "With the number of pharmaceuticals being traded in schools now, it is out of hand," he said.

New DeSmet principal Joe Halligan said that in his seven short months on the job here - he spent 10 years in Billings as an elementary school teacher - he's only dealt with one case of potential prescription drug abuse.

Halligan emphasized that in Missoula, he's dealing with older students. DeSmet includes kindergarten through eighth grade.

Still, he said, "I've definitely seen and heard about (marijuana) hundreds of more times than I would have in Billings in 10 years. ...

"I've been a deer in the headlights for a lot of what I've encountered."


Medical privacy laws and regulations regarding juveniles make it difficult to get details on the young people with medical marijuana cards in Montana.

Jamie Guerin was one: The 18-year-old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy died in October in Missoula.

And Kati Welch was the first minor who registered for a card when she started using medical cannabis at 17 to cope with medical conditions that resulted in seven brain and spinal surgeries in three years, according to comments she made on a YouTube video.

"My mom got so much crap from people. What would you do when your daughter's crawling down the hall, puking, and can't get out of bed and having to get three Demoral shots a week and ... you've tried everything the doctor said?" Welch asked on the video released last year by Patients and Families United. The group promotes reforming the medical marijuana law, but adamantly opposes repeal.

Welch told Hiedi Handford of Lincoln, who writes the Montana Connect blog on medical cannabis, last week that she was too ill to discuss the subject. Handford said few young people who use medical marijuana, or parents whose children use it, want to talk about it publicly.

Because of the uproar over medical marijuana, Handford said, "people are worried about having their children taken away."

Mike Hyde of Missoula, though, remains outspoken on the subject. Hyde's 2 1/2 -year-old son Cash is likely the youngest medical marijuana cardholder in the state, if not the country.

Cash Hyde was diagnosed last year with a brain tumor and his father said that 3-milliliter doses of marijuana oil in the boy's gastric tube allowed his son to stop using powerful painkillers and start eating again following intensive rounds of chemotherapy.

"We're off the chemo. We're cancer-free. We beat Stage 4 cancer," Hyde said. Cash goes back to the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah next month for a brain scan, he said.

Mike Hyde said that long before it was legal, he self-medicated with marijuana as a teenager because it gave him better results than Ritalin. "I'd just smoke a little cannabis before school and I'd be fine," he said.

When it comes to young people using marijuana, he said, "I'd be more concerned about kids eating McDonald's or playing with plastic toys with lead-based paint from China. Cannabis is the last thing they need to really worry about."


Glen Welch, a Missoula County Youth Court probation officer, worries about it a lot.

"Kids who smoke marijuana damage their brains," he said. "Just because you have a card doesn't mean you don't damage your brain."

Welch wants to be clear that he's not against the medical use of marijuana, and that he's not naive about the fact that kids smoked dope long before its therapeutic use was legalized.

But he said that legalization - especially the free-form Montana variety - "has opened up a can of worms" by making marijuana use socially acceptable.

It's also made marijuana more available, said Missoula Police Officer Jim Johnson, the school resource officer at Hellgate High School.

"I really feel that having medical marijuana (legalized) has really made it easier for kids to get the drug," Johnson wrote in an email. "I have several sources who have told me that they have bought marijuana from a person with a green card."

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul, who prosecutes drug cases, likewise said the high visibility of medical marijuana in Missoula County coincides with a rise in marijuana use by young people.

"Now that we've seen medical marijuana really take off, we're seeing more and more marijuana in the schools and in the hands of students," Paul said. "... Look at the message we're sending young people: 'It's not dangerous. It's benign.' "

State and national studies back up that anecdotal information.

An increase in the availability of marijuana, along with a decrease in the perception of its risk, paralleled a rise in teens' use of marijuana, a 2010 Montana Department of Health and Human Services study showed.

Last year, marijuana surpassed cigarettes as the second-most abused substance by Montana eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders. In Missoula County, one in three high school seniors reported smoking pot in the previous 30 days, compared to just under one in four statewide.

And a 2010 National Institutes of Health Study, "Monitoring the Future: National Results on Adolescent Drug Use," said its most important finding was the rise in marijuana use by teens over the last few years, after years of decline.

Both surveys show alcohol, by far, continues to be the most abused substance by teens.

But the NIH study found that for the first time since 1981, more high school seniors had reported smoking pot than drinking in the previous 30 days.

"Nearly one in 16 high school seniors today," it reported, "is a current daily, or near-daily, marijuana user."

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: missoulian.com
Author: Gwen Florio
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: missoulian.com
Website: Kids' Use of Medical Marijuana Stirs Debate
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