Attorney General: Marijuana industry targeting young people

Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2016 6:29 pm

Why does Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson continue to hold a position against legalizing marijuana for recreational usage? Because of the kids, he told members of the Scottsbluff Lions Club Wednesday.

Peterson often hears: “Don’t we have bigger problems in this state than marijuana?”

However, he said, he feels that marijuana is an issue for Nebraska, particularly after the increased use of marijuana in Colorado after legalization for recreational usage.

“The big concern that I have is — and the reason that I think this is a fight worth fighting — is that they (the marijuana industry) are doing very strong potency marijuana and they are targeting our young people.”

Peterson compared the marijuana industry to the tobacco industry. Just like “big tobacco” understood that getting young people to smoke in their teens would result in a smoker for life, Peterson said, the marijuana industry is aiming its efforts at young people.

He says that the industry — which he says made $5.5 billion last year and is projected to make $6.5 billion this year — targets young people and it is shown in its products and the name of its products.

“When you are putting strong THC products in pixie sticks, lollipops, power drinks and candy bars, it’s very apparent that you are designing it for a youth market.”

He said that most people find it unacceptable for industries, such as the alcohol industry, to market to young people. People would be outraged and demanding that something be done if the alcohol industry took on the same tactics.

“The marijuana industry is not being held accountable by the state of Colorado in that regard,” he said.

Changes and increased regulation has been strongly opposed by the marijuana industry, he said.

Law enforcement are also concerned about the issue, he said, because it is spilling over into Nebraska. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined not to hear a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado. The two argued that the neighboring state cannot legally sell a drug that remains banned under federal law. Pederson said the justices said the case will have to be taken up in federal courts in Colorado, but he thinks that the case will eventually end up being heard by the Supreme Court.

“We think this thing has happened so quickly within the industry. We think that if they (the U.S. Supreme Court) don’t say what the effect of the Controlled Substances Act is, that it is going to be so far down the road that it is going to be hard to stop the commercial marijuana industry.”

Peterson has also taken his position to Washington D.C. He testified earlier this week at a hearing of the Senate drug caucus called by its chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, calling on the federal government to take action. He says a 2009 memo from the U.S. Department of Justice told federal agents not to “waste their time on marijuana.” However, he said, traffic stops in Lancaster County resulted in large marijuana seizures of marijuana at almost $13 million within a 40-day time period. Marijuana was believed to have been trafficked from Colorado, Oregon and California.

The Department of Justice needs to be doing more to enforce drug laws, he said, and Grassley cited a GAO report that said the Justice Department should be doing more to collect data on the legalization experience in states such as Colorado.

Peterson said he believes that further study will show an increase in marijuana-related crimes, such as thefts, and negative impact on the education and health systems in states that have legalized marijuana.

“It (the marijuana industry) is not about judging the costs to the community, but the profit,” he said.

“I did not anticipate that I’d have to get so deep into the issue of marijuana,” Peterson said of his time so far as attorney general. Recently, he toured a Colorado medical and recreational dispensary facility with Colorado’s attorney general. He said he has also become well-educated on the topic through reading medical journals, studies, articles and even industry materials.

Peterson said he and others also need to focus on educating adults about the differences between marijuana of the 1970s and marijuana today. He remains concerned about the effects of marijuana on young people because of increased potency. In the 1970s, he said, marijuana was at potency levels of 4 to 6 percent. Today, he said, law enforcement are seeing potency levels at 20 percent THC and premium marijuana is at 25 to 30 percent. Edibles and “dabs” are even more potent.

Studies about the effects of marijuana haven’t been done at such large potency levels, he said, yet still show that adolescents that use marijuana are at higher risk for developing mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety and bipolar. He said he has seen the issue affect relatives of his own family and the marijuana has few obstacles without enforcement.

“If an industry wants to come into Nebraska, and wants to market this to our young people and tell them that it’s not harmful, I think that is a lie,” he said. “I think it is something that we have to collectively fight against.”

Costs of marijuana on the black market have increased, even in states where marijuana is legal because of increased potency, debunking a popular argument that legalization would eliminate that, according to Peterson. Omaha gangs are trading Colorado marijuana, he said. Prior to 2009, he said, marijuana came primarily from Mexico and THC levels were much lower than today. Even in Colorado, he said, there is illegal sale of marijuana and trafficking.

Peterson didn’t comment much on medical marijuana. Earlier this week, the Nebraska Legislature did not pass medical marijuana, falling three votes short of advancing a bill that would have allowed patients with some conditions to obtain marijuana in pill, oil or liquid forms. He said that medical marijuana needs further study, citing a letter that he said was provided to Nebraska legislators from a Colorado neurologist serving as president of the American Epilepsy Foundation. Other physicians have also indicated that medical marijuana and cannabis oil need long-term study. He said that his overall message to senators is to wait and see what the long-term effects of legalizing marijuana, for recreational or medicinal use, is before joining other states that have legalized its usage.

While in western Nebraska, Peterson and other officials with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office gave a workshop on sexual assault investigations and prosecutions to area law enforcement and county attorneys. Peterson estimated that at least 70 officials from throughout western Nebraska attended the workshop, which is one of four workshops that presented in the state.

An additional four workshops will be presented in other locations.

Peterson said the workshops are being offered after the League of Municipalities called attention to his office for a need to improve specialized investigative training for officers. He has attempted to offer the workshops in locations where officers with agencies do not have to travel more than an hour.

County attorneys throughout the state are also able to call on the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to assist in sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.

“We will do that in a heartbeat,” he said of providing assistance. He told the Lions Club that his office has focused on prioritizing projects that focus on the most vulnerable in the state, one of the reasons for the initiative to provide training for sexual assault investigations.

Peterson also visited students at Mitchell.


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