Pubdate: Fri, 09 Dec 2011
Source: Alpena News, The (MI)
Copyright: 2011 The Alpena News
Author: Andrew Westrope


ALPENA - A growing aggregation of concerned health workers, educators,
and law officials will attempt to raise funds and public awareness in
the coming months as it mounts a campaign against local use and
distribution of synthetic marijuana.

Hospitals and law enforcement officials across the country have
reported a marked increase in serious incidents related to synthetic
marijuana, marketed as herbal incense under street names like "spice"
and "K2," every year since 2009. In the third of a series of work
group meetings to address the drug's local presence, Alpena Probate
Judge Thomas LaCross discussed possible marketing strategies on Friday
with over 20 local leaders representing Alpena Public Schools, Alpena
Regional Medical Center, the Department of Human Services, Catholic
Human Services, Northeast Community Mental Health, Partners in
Prevention, and various law enforcement and judicial offices.

The group heard a high school student's firsthand account of the
drug's effects, which he described as harrowing.

"I thought it was potpourri," he said. "When I tried synthetic
marijuana, I started to feel very lazy. After I sat down and was quiet
for a couple minutes, I started seeing things that weren't really
there and got very scared ... It was miserable."

His mother said she had never heard of the drug before the incident
brought it to her attention, and LaCross corroborated her assertion
that most parents and teachers don't know about it. This, he said,
would be the biggest and most important hurdle to overcome in stamping
out its use and distribution in Alpena County.

In addition to an informative slideshow presentation made for 
widespread exhibition by the AHS Leadership class and possible public 
service announcements or newsletters, one option to raise public 
awareness came from Lamar Advertising Company: a billboard campaign, 
covering eight locations in a 20-poster rotation over a 52-week 
period, priced at a nonprofit rate of $9,000.

"We have to educate people, and so the billboards are one way to do
that," LaCross said. "I think that we spend a lot of public money,
grant money, donated money on many things that are for profit in this
community, but to do this type of thing, to raise and spend $9,000, is
very, very worthwhile use of those dollars. There's a lot of things
$9,000 can go for ... but this is very worthwhile."

Legislation has been at a loss to find a definitive solution to the
problem of synthetic marijuana so far, because the drug itself has
been too variable and difficult to define; when one set of THC-like
compounds is outlawed, chemists alter synthetic marijuana formulas so
it doesn't contain anything illegal. Police officers said should the
city attempt to ban all analogs of the illegal compounds, users might
simply get them in the township, county, or surrounding communities.
Having spearheaded the local campaign against synthetic marijuana so
far, LaCross appealed to the group for two concrete objectives, which
he hoped to see accomplished by Feb. 1, 2012.

"The workgroup really has two tasks: to create the message what do we
want the billboards to say? and to raise the money," he said.

The gathered local leaders formed two workgroups to accomplish these
objectives. Money, they said, might come from local organizations like
KAPUT or the Community Foundation, fundraisers by students or parents,
and grants through the Northeast Michigan Community Partnership. The
group has yet to settle on a specific message for the billboards and
ad campaign.

Representatives from Alpena High School said they're doing what they
can to raise awareness and cracking down on drug use at school.

"When (students) come into the high school and we confiscate it,
they're going to go to the superintendant and be expelled," said high
school administrator Romeo Bourdage. "We've taken a hard stand on
drugs ... And if one gets by, they're going to bring it back, and like
any other doper, they're not going to do it by themselves. They're
going to do it in a circle. They're going to bring other people in."

Assistant Prosecutor Russ Rhynard summarized other tactics for
combating synthetic marijuana at the source.

"The sellers of this stuff know what's going on," he said. "The idea
of a class action lawsuit along with picketing may be very effective,
and HUNT knows all of the locations in town where this is being sold."

The final point, LaCross said, is for everyone involved to maintain
focus and make a concerted effort to not only illegalize or eradicate
the drug but to persuade people not to try it in the first place.

"I don't want any more ER visits. I don't want any more people getting
therapy because they're using synthetic. I don't want any more kids
using it," he said. "Now I don't think that'll happen, but it's a goal
. We're serious, we have to get at it."

Partners in Prevention has yet to establish a date for its "Power of
Parenting" community forum to raise awareness of the dangers of
synthetic drugs, and a fundraising workgroup formed on Friday will get
to work on securing funds for the billboard as soon as Thursday. To
donate money, get involved, or learn more, contact the Partners in
Prevention at 356-2880. 
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