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Kids’ Pot Use– Both Legal and Illegal– at Center of Debate over Future of Medical Marijuana in Montana

March 28, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Drugs, Health & Medicine with 0 Comments

A debate in Montana over whether or not to repeal the state’s medical marijuana law is focused on pot use by children. There are 52 legal cannabis users under the age of 18 in the state, a tiny number that represents less than 2% of the total number of Montana medical marijuana patients. Still, use by minors– especially illegal use– has caused many Montanans to call for a repeal of the state’s medical use law.

“The number one 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,” state Senator Jeff Essmann, a Republican from Billings, told the Missoulian. Essmann is one of the lawmakers, mostly Republican, who wants the 2011 state legislature to repeal the current law. “It’s a serious problem, no doubt about it,” agreed Jim Gingery, executive director of the Montana Medical Growers Association. “We absolutely believe in protecting children.” Gingery, however, does not want the law repealed.

As far as illegal use of medicinal marijuana by unlicensed minors, Gingery asserts that there have been “very, very few cases” of medical pot found in schools. He says he’s more concerned about kids raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets and abusing their prescription medications.  But some law enforcement officials disagree. Glen Welch, a Missoula County Youth Court probation officer, told the Missoulian that medical legalization “has opened up a can of worms” by making the drug more available and socially acceptable. Missoula police officer Jim Johnson agrees. “I really feel that having medical marijuana (legalized) has really made it easier for kids to get the drug,” he opined. “I have several sources who have told me that they bought marijuana from a person with a green card,” he told the Missoulian. “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,” Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul concurred. “Look at the message we’re sending young people… ‘It’s not dangerous. It’s benign.'”

For young patients suffering from debilitating diseases, medical marijuana is much more than benign– it’s a life saver, or at least a quality-of-life saver. Kati Welch was the state’s first minor to obtain a medical marijuana card; she did so at age 17 to help her cope with the pain from seven brain and spinal surgeries. “My mom got so much crap from people,” she told the Missoulian. “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?”

Mike Hyde, who self-medicated with marijuana as a teenager because he found that the drug worked much better than the Ritalin he was prescribed, now finds himself the father of the youngest medical marijuana patient in the state, if not the country. His 2-year-old son Cash was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year. Mike says 3-milliliter doses of liquid THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, in Cash’s gastric feeding tube allowed him to stop using powerful and potentially dangerous prescription painkillers. Now Cash has re-gained his appetite, even after intensive chemotherapy. “We’re off the chemo. We’re cancer-free. We beat Stage 4 cancer,” he triumphantly told the Missoulian. Asked about the dangers of youngsters using marijuana, Hyde replied: “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.”

Here’s an ABC 20/20 segment about the legal use of medical marijuana by children:

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