Marijuana Boot Camp delves into marijuana’s potential impacts

As marijuana legalization continues to be a point of debate, local health leaders are hoping to start a conversation.

Nearly 30 states have legalized marijuana in some form, and seven states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use.

The drug is still illegal federally, however, and in Wisconsin, with some limited exceptions medicinally.

The La Crosse County Prevention Network and the Monroe County Safe Community Coalition partnered to host Marijuana Boot Camp in Onalaska on Friday.

Its goal was to delve into marijuana’s potential impacts with 70 educators, health care providers and other area specialists.

As marijuana’s accessibility and acceptance increases nationwide, Tony Coder, of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, wants people to slow down and look at all the facts.

“There are definite consequences that come with marijuana legalization,” he said. “There might be some benefits, but there are also consequences and both pieces need to be looked at before we do any kind of policy work.”

He was the speaker at the event, noting potential side effects of marijuana legalization, such as drugged driving, health impacts and increases in youth use.

“That’s really what I’m here for, is advocacy for kids,” said Skyla Killilea, prevention educator at the Coulee Council on Addictions.

Killilea said she gained useful information for her work speaking to elementary school children.

“They have this perception it’s legal in others states, so it must be OK,” she said.

Area health educator Judi Zabel said marijuana has become more potent over the years, so it’s important that people, especially the young, are aware.

She’s concerned by how high the THC content in marijuana products is now. She said some products, such as hash oil, can have 90 percent THC.

According to the La Crosse County Prevention Network, hospitalizations for cannabis are going up locally.

“We want to get in ahead of this, have conversations, increase dialogue so we better understand what marijuana looks like today and what it could mean for youth and generations to come,” Zabel said.

“The informational piece is what’s most important,” Killilea said. “That’s what I do with the kids. I’m not here to say, ‘Don’t do drugs; drugs are bad,’ not that I’m saying otherwise, but just to provide them with that education.”

Zabel hopes attendees will take that education out into the rest of the community.

“I want this to be the beginning of a conversation, not the end,” she said.