As Montana prepares to begin sales of recreational marijuana, a look at its effects By: Mette Fears Of the Summit Staff

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Billings City Hall

Billings City Hall

 

The sale of recreational marijuana will be legal in Yellowstone County when Rocky Mountain College students return for the spring 2022 semester. 

 

In 2020, voters in Montana voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana and to amend the Montana Constitution to make 21 the legal age of usage. Therefore, in the 2021 legislative sessions, lawmakers refined the details of implementation with HB-701.


Currently, adults over the age of 21 are allowed to possess and use up to 1 ounce of marijuana. However, recreational marijuana is prohibited for use in most public places and when operating a vehicle. It is still illegal under federal law, therefore consumption is not allowed on any federal lands. Furthermore, an adult can still face criminal proceedings if found negligent in any capacity while under the influence of marijuana.

 

Rocky Mountain College as a private institution still prohibits the use of recreational marijuana on its facilities. As noted in the Drug & Alcohol Policy, as a school that receives federal funds, Rocky must comply with federal law that holds marijuana illegal. Furthering that notion, Rocky athletes cannot use marijuana, according to NAIA rules found in the Student-Athlete Handbook

 

The sale of recreational marijuana will begin in Yellowstone County on Jan. 1, 2021. However, voters in November voted to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana within Billings city limits. Therefore, recreational marijuana businesses cannot operate within the city limits but can operate in Yellowstone County. Medical marijuana facilities will be the only ones allowed to file for a recreational permit within the year 2022.

 

The state requires inspections of all recreational facilities; however, it should be noted that the FDA does not regulate recreational marijuana in any capacity. 

 

With this legalization, Montana joins 18 other states in legalizing recreational marijuana. This, however, is not an uncontested concept. Those against the legalization of recreational marijuana often point to the knowledge that marijuana is a mind-altering drug and could affect the safety of citizens, and those in support often equate marijuana to government policies on alcohol. 

 

In an effort to understand the effects of marijuana, Licensed Addiction Counselor Warren Beck was asked a handful of questions. 

 

What is your official job title?

I am a Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC) for the state of Montana (since 1998). I hold a Masters of Art degree (M.A.) in Marriage & Family Therapy and a Bachelors of Art (B.A.) in Behavioral Health (with an emphasis in Chemical Dependency). In Billings, I have worked for Rimrock Foundation, RiverStone Health, the Montana Women’s Prison, and (since 2009) – the Community Crisis Center (CCC). At the CCC, my main task is performing evaluations and referring persons to their congruent level of treatment service(s). I also participate with our facility’s official Outpatient Treatment programs (IOP and OP). 

 

What effect do you see the legalization of recreational marijuana has on college students? Concerns and/or benefits?

First and foremost, the legalization will likely bring about a significant increase in the number of persons utilizing marijuana. At first, the legalization will be like the “new kid on the block”. It will be the “in” thing to do. Some persons who have never previously tried marijuana will now do so. Legalization will further foster the mindset that marijuana is safe, nearly benign in adversity, and is clearly a better substance than other entries such as methamphetamine, opioids, or even alcohol. And, as everyone knows, marijuana possesses medical benefits. 

 

Perhaps… however marijuana clearly remains a mood-altering substance; one with a couple of concerns/unique features (from other substances), i.e. 

  1. a) the marijuana of today is not the same of the marijuana of yesteryear. Why? Potency/elevated levels of THC. People are smart, they have access to and know how to utilize ever-increasing technology. The “best” weed of previous years, would likely be on the low scale of strength/desirability today. 
  2. b) the desired effects (the high) from marijuana (via smoking) occur practically instantaneous. No waiting around. 
  3. c) Marijuana largely defies the standard tolerance aspect of substance abuse, i.e. the increased need to consume an ever-increasing quantity of the product, primarily isn’t necessary.
  4. d) Marijuana is not thought of as being physically addictive, in the same manner as Alcohol or Opiates, i.e. in regards to obvious and quite unpleasant withdrawal-type symptoms. Death or the need for hospitalization regarding withdrawal is virtually non-existent. However, marijuana is/can clearly be “psychologically” addictive (as all other substances can as well). The need to use and the belief that one can’t make it without getting high can be as powerful as any other entry in this parameter. So, in a word – is marijuana addicting: Yes!

 

 So…with increased people using marijuana, the possibility/probability of negative effects occurring, driving under the influence, becoming lethargic, relationship arguments, increased anxiety, etc.

 

Advice for young adults who use or will use marijuana?

Preference (from my side of the tracks) would be not to use at all. While marijuana isn’t as typically associated with violence, and some other unpleasantries – as previously indicated, marijuana is a powerful, mood-altering substance that can also affect one’s sense of timing, reactions, etc. Also, marijuana is still an active member of the “chemical dependency club”; it is a significant probability that anyone who has ever used substances such as methamphetamine, opioids, cocaine, etc. (“harder” drugs) has also previously used marijuana (as well as alcohol and nicotine). This doesn’t mean it is an automatic “gateway” drug as it is often referred to; marijuana’s large population of users is primarily due to its easy availability (think alcohol in this manner, even more so). For many persons, while they may still cling to marijuana as their drug of choice (or one of their drugs of choice), the desire to experience some similar, but different types of substance use becomes compelling, hence some degree of movement into the “harder” drugs. Nonetheless, the already elevated level of availability for marijuana will take a few further and larger leaps upward upon legalization.

 

What are some local resources for students who experience addiction?

These specific resources include, but are not necessarily limited to residential/inpatient treatment services, intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient (OP), individual counseling/psychotherapy (as well as with other persons, if/as indicated), various support group meetings. 

 

Specific locations/venues for these resources/services include the Community Crisis Center, Rimrock Foundation, Journey Recovery (of the Mental Health Center), New Day, Billings Urban Indian and Wellness Center, RiverStone Health/Healthcare for the Homeless. 

 

Additionally, there are many counselors/therapists in the Billings Community (private practice), who are co-occurring disorders trained and licensed; in addition to LAC, they may also be LCSW, LCPC, Ph.D., or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, Psychiatric Physician’s Assistant. 

 

And let’s not forget some of our earliest entries, which continue to offer free, supportive group meetings at various times and locations in Billings (as well as across the state and country):  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gambler’s Anonymous (GA), Celebrate Recovery, Power for Abundant Recovery (PAR), Al-Anon, Dual Recovery…

 

Also, numerous self-education efforts regarding substance abuse and associated difficulties/consequences, i.e. books, pamphlets, Internet reviews, Rimrock Foundation library, etc.

 

Federal Illegal

https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling 

Legalize

https://sosmt.gov/wp-content/uploads/I-190.pdf 

Amend

https://sosmt.gov/wp-content/uploads/CI-118.pdf 

HB-701

https://leg.mt.gov/bills/2021/billpdf/HB0701.pdf

Student Athlete Handbook

https://gobattlinbears.com/documents/2021/8/9/SA_Handbook__August_2021.pdf?path=athletics 

Rocky Policy

https://www.rocky.edu/campus-life/campus-safety/drug-alcohol-policy 

FDA

https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd#whatare 

 

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