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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state May 1, 2016

1/1/2013 4:16:00 PM
Teens score pot from medical marijuana cardholders

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Close to one out of every eight high schoolers who admitted to smoking marijuana recently say they got it from a medical marijuana cardholder.

The biennial study done by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission found that nearly 29 percent of students in grades 10 through 12 admitted to having smoked marijuana at some point. And more than 14 percent said they had inhaled in the last 30 days.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority said they had obtained the drug from a friend, with family and relatives also a major source.

But 11.6 percent said they got the marijuana from one of the more than 33,000 individuals who have the state's permission to legally grow or purchase marijuana for their own medical conditions. Because the survey allows multiple responses, that could include friends and family members.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay said the response could have been foretold.

"I don't think people should be surprised by the fact that easier access to marijuana by medical card holders will lead to easier abuse by minors,' he said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Mongtomery, who is trying to shut down the whole program, concurred.

"When you wind up with a purported medical marijuana system that in reality is a recreational use system, I would say that this is a foreseeable consequence,' he said. And Montgomery said he believes that Arizona will see the same sort of increase in unauthorized teen use that has been recorded in other states with medical marijuana laws.

Cory Nelson, a deputy assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services which administers the medical marijuana program, said his agency is paying attention to the numbers of teens who said they got the drugs from a cardholder. But Nelson said people should not lose sight of other numbers in the report.

"We've got almost 80 percent who say they're getting it from friends, and another 15 percent that say they're getting it from family,' he said. "So we need to make sure we are looking at all those areas and not just the one.'

Nelson said, though, he is not minimizing the problem.

"If people are giving away their marijuana, they certainly are committing a crime ... in providing that substance to somebody that's not authorized to have it.'

Montgomery said one thing he would be interested in learning is whether the cardholder who is providing the marijuana is a fellow teen or an adult.

In general, the 2010 Arizona law allows adults who have a doctor's recommendation to get a state-issued ID card allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. But the law also allows parents or guardians to obtain a recommendation for a minor child, albeit with some additional hurdles.

The question that remains is whether police or prosecutors can do much about this aspect of the problem.

"When you have a juvenile who is in possession of marijuana, it's not a standard course of questioning to ask, 'Where did you get it from?' ' Montgomery said. "You'd have to have someone volunteer information about where they procured the marijuana.'

Unklesbay said that arrests of individuals for having small amounts of marijuana are rare.

He said some people get charged with possession if they're already being arrested for something else and the marijuana charge "just gets tacked on.' In other circumstances, though, if someone is found with a small amount of the drug, it is likely to result in nothing more than a citation to show up in city court "and no follow-up investigation is done.'

Unklesbay said it is up to police to find out why a minor has marijuana and whether they got it from a legal cardholder.

"They can use the juvenile's statement to go after the adult who transfers it,' he said. "I think they'd be interested in that kind of abuse of the medical certificate.'

Nelson said that, aside from criminal penalties, any cardholder who gives away or sells marijuana to someone not authorized to have it faces loss of the card. He acknowledged, though, that can require a full-blown hearing.

Repeated calls to Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, the group that pushed the 2010 initiative, were not returned. Neither were calls to the national Marijuana Policy Project which provided some of the funding for the campaign.

Attorney General Tom Horne, who also opposes the law, said the findings in the report about teen use and where they get it is consistent with other information about the medical marijuana program.

"The number of young males with medical cards is all out of proportion to the number of young males that suffer from the kinds of ailments that we're supposed to be giving cards for,' he said, calling the law "badly abused.'

Figures from the health department show nearly three-fourths of all cardholders are male, with nearly half of cardholders younger than 40.

Close to 90 percent of patients approved for use of the drug are complaining of chronic pain; the closest second is nausea at 7.5 percent.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Article comment by: Fare Play

Anything to undermine the will of the voters. I have never seen so much propaganda. Why don't you ask those same underage kids where they get their illegal alcohol.
You can spout negative press about anything, including law enforcement.

Posted: Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Article comment by: Flawed analysis

This is a flawed and biased analysis. By asking wrong questions, it reaches the wrong conclusions.

To put it another way -- is 1 of 8 teens getting pot from a legal card holder better than 7 of 8 getting it from Mexican narco-terrorists?

Let's face it, in reality they're going to get it from somewhere. You're not going to stop that. This has been proven incontrovertibly over the past 8 decades of the war on drugs.

The fact of the matter is you're not going to stop teens or anyone else from getting marijuana if they want it.

The better solution is to provide education on the risks so kids know what they're doing.

Given that reality, is it better that teens get it from legal card holders, friends or family -- or would you rather they deal with Mexican narco-terrorists?

Isn't it time to put this wasteful and ineffective war on marijuana to an end? The people of Colorado and Washington think so.

And the people of Arizona agree it's better to regulate it medically, tax it, and control it legally.

Posted: Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Article comment by: Vince Broud

They have to get it somewhere. Soooooo, what is your point? Don't you have something better to do with your time? Get a life.

Posted: Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Jane

'You people' miss the point entirely. Under the constitution of our country, YOU DO NOT have the right to tell people what to do! How arrogant does one have to be to believe that they have a right to outlaw a plant! To follow your own logic to it's end, you should be trying to outlaw brewed and distilled intoxicants as well as the most dangerous drug on the planet, tobacco.

If we are going to outlaw plants, let's start with goatheads and weeds!

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2012
Article comment by: Mr Maverick

This happens with alcohol on a regular basis so what is the point? When people break the law we usually do not change the law but rather arrest the criminals.

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2012
Article comment by: J L

Bla bla

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