Guest Editorial from Andy Duran
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to introduce myself to you. My name is Andy Duran, and I am the CEO of an organization in Chicago called LEAD. LEAD, or Linking Efforts Against Drugs, is a non-profit dedicated to creating healthier communities for youth by reducing underage alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug use.
About 5 years ago, Brandee Tyree, one of your Regional Technical Assistance Leaders, asked me to visit Montana to speak about prescription drug prevention initiatives. As soon as I got off the plane, I was struck by the natural beauty of the mountains, rivers and streams. However, what I have found to be most beautiful about Montana is the people!
Over the past few years, I have had an opportunity to work with many different agencies and communities throughout the state. I have spoken in a number of schools, met many students, worked with your law enforcement, partnered with churches, and have built relationships with many community members.
That is why, when I was recently asked to help coach prevention leaders and specialists throughout the state on marijuana prevention initiatives, I jumped at the opportunity. While I will miss being in person with the mountains, rivers, streams (and people!) due to COVID-19, I am excited to leverage the great work that is being done in Montana.
In addition to my work with LEAD, I have run ministry groups for high school students, founded a camp for children with disabilities called Camp Hope, and was recently elected as a member of the Board of Education for my local school district near Chicago.
I have spent my career serving youth, and I work with students in schools and communities nearly every day. I see first-hand the effect that substance use and abuse has on the lives of our youth, so naturally I have significant concerns about creating a commercialized industry for marijuana – which is what we have seen happen in many states across the United States.
As more and more states legalize recreational marijuana, we need to consider what does that really mean for Montana? We have learned that “Legalization” is not the same thing as “Commercialization;” and that it creates a commercialized retail industry for a harmful, addictive drug.
You hear the argument that we should not be throwing people in jail for simple marijuana use. Agreed. Many states have worked toward a solution to this problem by decriminalizing marijuana.
You hear the argument that cancer patients and other persons who are sick are in need of marijuana to feel better. Fine. The state of Montana, way back in 2010, legalized marijuana for a variety of medical conditions.
You hear the argument that thousands of people in Montana are already using marijuana, so we should just legalize it. That rationale, however, is flawed. There are also thousands of people in Montana speeding on our roadways every day. Should we make that legal too?
What we’re really talking about is the creation of a fully commercialized industry that is incentivized to sell as much marijuana as it can. If this were truly about public health, creating an industry of addiction profiteers would be strictly off the table. Those are the people who will profit, and they will do so on the backs of our youth and communities.
Although the proponent side may argue that youth usage rates have gone down in states where marijuana has been legalized, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Usage rates, according to SAMHSA’s National Survey for Drug Use and Health, have been going down for nearly a decade now, because PREVENTION AND EDUCATION WORK! The real story is that the top 22 states with the most youth usage (age 12-17) in the United States all have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. On the flip side, 16 of the 17 states with the lowest youth marijuana use have not legalized marijuana in any way, shape or form.
There’s a reason that Marlboro’s parent company, Altria, just invested $1.8 billion in marijuana. This is the same company that invested $38 billion in JUUL. 90% of addiction begins in adolescence. The marijuana and tobacco industries know this just like you and I do. Marketing to youth is part of the business model.
You’ll hear it said that this is a bill that will “Restore our Communities” and will finally bring justice to communities that have been adversely affected by the war on drugs.
As someone who was raised in a rural community and has spent years working in the inner city of Chicago, I can promise you that this is untrue. I don’t believe that pumping in more drugs will truly “restore” any communities. I hope that setting up shop and selling more drugs in communities is NOT the best answer we can come up with. Montanans deserve better. Our youth deserve better!
There is so much at stake, but all of you have some say. I’d like to encourage us all to think long and hard about having a hand in redoing the harms already done by pumping more drugs into our communities – which is exactly what a commercialized retail industry for marijuana would do.
There is much work to be done, and you have great people in place in your state who are looking out for your community and your children. I know they would love for you to get involved!
Thank you for allowing me to introduce myself to you. I look forward to returning to Montana in-person soon, and spending time with the wonderful people! The mountains, rivers and streams are pretty great too.
Andy Duran, CEO