Substance abuse specialists join the conversation about marijuana

"I don't think anybody should get arrested for marijuana possession and go to prison," said Scott Teitelbaum, professor and chief in the division of addiction medicine at University of Florida's department of psychiatry.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.

As a discussion gains steam among Alachua County officials about how the legal system should treat people found with small amounts of marijuana, Gainesville substance abuse specialists are joining the conversation.

Gwen Love, prevention service coordinator at CDS family and behavioral health services, said people should be evaluated for drug treatment instead of being arrested for marijuana possession.

“If they're caught, there should be some substance abuse assessment done, and then they should be referred to whatever treatment is required,” she said.

In Florida, when someone is caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana, he or she can face a misdemeanor charge, incarceration for as long as a year and a fine of as much as $1,000.

Watson Louidor, substance abuse counselor at Creative Counseling Services of Gainesville, said charging a person with marijuana possession changes the entire outlook of their future.

“I am personally for decriminalization of marijuana because of the harm criminalization does to families,” he said. “I believe a person should be referred to a diversionary program instead.”

Alachua County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson has suggested withholding money from the Sheriff's Office for each person jailed on a misdemeanor marijuana charge. Reducing the budget would steer the Sheriff's Office toward using its resources on more pressing concerns, he said.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell maintains that until the laws change, her mandate is to enforce them.

Scott Teitelbaum, professor and chief of the division of addiction medicine in the University of Florida's department of psychiatry, has dealt with patients with marijuana dependency.

“I don't think anybody should get arrested for marijuana possession and go to prison,” Teitelbaum said. “There is a way for the law system and the drug treatment system to work together.”

A few states already have decriminalized marijuana.

Teitelbaum said as more states legalize the drug, more people will use it.

“People have to accept the fact that as it becomes legal, there are going to be more people with significant marijuana-use disorders, especially in the younger folks.”

Teitelbaum said he has found that, for some of his patients, their first introduction to marijuana was around age 13. He said when pot is used at a young age, these people are more likely to become addicted. “A developing brain is much more vulnerable to addiction and cognitive harm in terms of developing and maturation of cognitive processes,” he said.

Because of the effects of marijuana on a developing brain, Teitelbaum said, states that have legalized marijuana should begin investing in adolescent treatment.

“Everything has consequences,” he said.

Medical marijuana has become a leading topic in the legalization movement. Teitelbaum said the use of medical marijuana needs to be controlled and studied.

“The idea that someone would smoke the drug with an unregulated dose is nutty,” he said.

Among those pushing for the legalization of marijuana are the baby boomers. The baby boomers have lived through Woodstock and “Reefer Madness” — and, Teitelbaum said, many still smoke pot.

“Baby boomers have always perceived it as an acceptable drug,” he said.

But the marijuana being sold now is not the same as boomers might remember. “It's more potent than it was back in the '60s and '70s,” he said.

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