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Public opinion on marijuana changing since legalization

A U.P. substance abuse treatment center says it now has more problems getting people to stop using cannabis than before
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 12:58 PM EDT
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This is the final part of a two-part series on marijuana. You can watch or read part one by clicking here.

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - We continue our special report on marijuana with a look at what has changed since recreational use was legalized in 2018.

A U.P. substance abuse treatment center says it now has more problems getting people to stop using cannabis than before.

Great Lakes Recovery Centers treats people abusing substances across the U.P. Its chief clinical officer says since the legalization of marijuana in Michigan, society’s attitude towards the substance has changed.

“A lot our clients say, ‘Well that’s not a drug.’ It’s been so normalized now that people don’t think anything of it,” said Robert Mellin, Great Lakes Recovery Centers Chief Clinical Officer. “They say, ‘That’s a natural herb.’”

Great Lakes Recovery Centers 2020 report shows 58 percent of adolescents admitted for residential treatment used cannabis as their drug of choice.

“It’s kind of a gateway to make them more likely to try something else,” said Jennifer Santer, Great Lakes Recovery Centers Children’s Services Director.

The clinic says it is recommending that all of its clients completely stop using marijuana.

“It is a mode-altering, addictive substance that isn’t the solution to life in general,” said Mellin. “We want to help people find the solution to really help live their life fully and not try to escape from it.”

However, Northern Specialty Health, a licensed recreational marijuana store in Houghton, says pot helps adults get off of other, more serious, drugs.

“We feel like cannabis is an exit drug and it helps people stay off of opioids and alcohol and other things,” said Penny Milkey, Northern Specialty Health General Partner. “It is a natural plant; we don’t find it harmful at all.”

Studies on marijuana show different results. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, “findings are consistent with the idea of marijuana as a gateway drug”, but that most “people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, harder substances.” The CDC adds that “more research is needed to understand if marijuana is a gateway drug”.

On potential marijuana addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says, “contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive”. While the CDC says, “one in ten marijuana users will become addicted” including one in every six teenagers.

“There’s a lot of research going on right now to see what the long-term effects are and there is some concern that there is going to be some long-term brain development issues,” said Santer.

Research from the CDC shows “marijuana affects brain development” especially in young children. It also says, “there is limited evidence that marijuana works to treat most types of chronic pain”.

However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says compounds found in cannabis, “likely have a natural role in pain modulation”. All three studies agree that more research is needed to understand the short term and long-term impacts of marijuana.

“I think what confuses people is that it doesn’t have the withdrawal symptoms that other substance do,” said Mellin. “If you are hooked on alcohol or opioids you have a major withdrawal you can’t deny. Withdrawal from marijuana is very minor.”

“A lot of people come here to substitute opioids or alcohol for cannabis because there is less side effects,” said Milkey. “They aren’t addicted to it and they don’t have that opioid need.”

Moving forward, Northern Specialty Health hopes more people will buy cannabis at licensed stores. Great Lakes Recovery recommends parents have honest conversations with their kids about the impact of marijuana.

If you miss part one of our series, watch or read it here.

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