School officials voice concerns over local medical marijuana dispensaries

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published May 10, 2018

MACOMB COUNTY — Clinton Township officials are pondering whether to opt in to medical marijuana within township borders. Simultaneously, local school administrators are making their voices known.

Back in January, just weeks after the state officially amended medical marijuana laws, superintendents from 22 Macomb County school districts drafted a letter to the Clinton Township Board of Trustees. The letter’s purpose was to express deep concerns about “the negative effects” of medical marijuana enterprises, including large-scale grow operations and dispensaries.

The letter came on Jan. 11 — the same day the board voted 5-2 in favor of the township Planning Commission’s recommendation to deliberate in relation to planning and zoning codes.

“We are concerned that the introduction of such businesses in our communities will formalize normal use, sending the message to our students that marijuana is a safe drug and result in increased marijuana use by our students,” the letter states.

The letter cites data based on accumulated research, including a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health claiming that states with legalized marijuana — medical, recreational or both — lead the nation in rates of youth marijuana use; a National Institute on Drug Abuse study stating that academic underperformance is related to marijuana use; and a Join Together study stating that THC potency levels increased from 1 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 2013.

Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts said it can sometimes be difficult to reach an accord with a bunch of superintendents in one room, but he said this issue brought upon a “quickly unanimous” consensus.

“It had been quiet regarding the issue,” Roberts said. “(The superintendents) raising it has brought attention to it and notoriety.”

He clarified that the letter relates strictly to medical marijuana and not the impending recreational marijuana ballot proposal this November. Also, he said the concern revolves around putting dispensaries in the surrounding community, saying, “In our opinion this normalized marijuana, and that will have an impact on our kids.

“We are employed to educate the community’s children,” he said. “I would hope that what we think, regarding something that could negatively impact our community’s children, they will listen to us. I hope that’s the case.”

He said a lot of data is new, but direct communication with his district shows a shift in mindset. He said that in the last two surveys provided to Chippewa Valley students, they said the perception of marijuana being safe has increased.

Ted Von Hiltmayer, superintendent of South Lake Schools in St. Clair Shores, joined Roberts and 20 other school officials in signing the letter. He said that all of the Macomb County superintendents are concerned about the possibility that a medical marijuana dispensary could be located near a school where students could see it daily.

“You have students who are passing it all the time now ... it’s the normalization of these things,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a concern for us with our students. It’s not something that is going to be ... supported by the superintendents as something that’s best for our students.”

Von Hiltmayer said that he is concerned about the effect the drug can have on brain development, and also that use of the drug could lead to more suspensions and expulsions. The superintendents were shown research done on the impact on school systems after marijuana legalization.

“It’s just the fact that it’s becoming normal,” he said. “You’re seeing this and it becomes something that you don’t think could have a negative impact for you.”

Von Hiltmayer said that proponents of the medical marijuana industry and marijuana legalization point to the fact that taxing the drug could solve state budgetary problems, but they’re “not considering the negative impact it could have on our youth, the adolescents. (The) impact it could have on our student achievement, which we’re already concerned with.”

Turning local communities into another Colorado or California is not prudent, Roberts said, and people will realize the impact sooner or later.

“If this is the direction people want to go, they need to plan for the negative consequences,” Roberts said. “One of those consequences is the increased use of drugs by our kids, our students. I think that needs to be planned for.”

The other 20 superintendents who signed the letter represent the following school districts: the Anchor Bay School District, Fitzgerald Public Schools, Lakeview Public Schools, Mount Clemens Community Schools, Romeo Community Schools, Utica Community Schools, Warren Woods Public Schools, Armada Area Schools, Clintondale Community Schools, Fraser Public Schools, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, New Haven Community Schools, Roseville Community Schools, Van Dyke Public Schools, Center Line Public Schools, Eastpointe Community Schools, Lake Shore Public Schools, Richmond Community Schools, Warren Consolidated Schools and the Macomb Intermediate School District.

Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske contributed to this report.