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6:12 PM Sun, Oct. 21st

Local officials issue dire warnings about marijuana

Meeting aimed at combating legalization efforts

Elizabeth Kempshall, executive director of Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is the oldest and most powerful drug cartel in the world. Drug cartels are growing their operations and present a real threat to Mohave County youth, she said. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Elizabeth Kempshall, executive director of Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is the oldest and most powerful drug cartel in the world. Drug cartels are growing their operations and present a real threat to Mohave County youth, she said. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - Marijuana is addictive and as bad as alcohol, but that's not what kids today are telling their parents, a senior research analyst with Arizona Criminal Justice Commission said Thursday.

Shana Malone said 9 percent of people who use marijuana become dependent on it and 25 percent to 50 percent of daily users are dependent on it.

The effects of marijuana are no less dangerous than alcohol, she said. The drug impairs judgment, slows reaction time, affects motor skills, changes mood and behavior and increases risk for accidents.

Malone showed charts and graphs aimed at dispelling many of the myths about marijuana being a harmless drug during her hour-long presentation at the County Administration Building.

The four-hour presentation was called "Marijuana Harmless? Think Again!" and was organized because of an effort to bring marijuana legalization before the Arizona Legislature this year and to voters in 2016.

Since 2006, marijuana use has increased 31.5 percent among 12th graders in Mohave County, compared with a 26.5 percent increase statewide, Malone noted.

Early use of the drug and favorable attitudes are among the contributing factors to the increase, she said.

More than half (55 percent) of Mohave County youth have never talked to their parents about alcohol or drug use. It's a hard conversation, the research analyst said.

"At a minimum, I hope you go home and have that conversation with your kids," Malone told about 70 people who attended the presentation, many of them law enforcement officers. "There is hope and that hope comes from the home."

Parents' disapproval ranks second to "not interested" among reasons given by youths who do not smoke marijuana.

While 70 percent of Mohave County youth said they obtained marijuana from their friends, another 40 percent said they got it from other sources, including their home.

Some of their parents have medical marijuana cards, and 30 percent of kids who don't smoke marijuana said their parents would be all right with it if they did.

"Now more than ever there may be more postings by adults on Facebook that they do it," Malone said.

She attacked other myths.

For example, some say legalized marijuana will lower crime. The crime rate in Denver is up by 6.7 percent for the first six months since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014.

Mikel Weisser, political director of Safer Arizona, disputed those findings. He said violent crime is down, according to statistics from Denver.gov. Teen marijuana use is also down, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health.

Another myth: Tax revenue from drug sales will offset increased costs to society. Current alcohol tax revenues cover less than 10 percent of alcohol-related costs, which are about $223.5 billion annually in health care, criminal justice and lost productivity.

Myth: Prisons are full of people convicted of simple marijuana possession. Not true, Malone said. Less than 1.4 percent of convictions are for marijuana offenses only. Others are guilty of trafficking, growing, manufacturing or distribution.

Proponents of legalizing marijuana say it will reduce illegal drug trade and cartel activities.

Elizabeth Kempshall, executive director of Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said Mexican and South American drug cartels are growing their operations and bringing drugs to the United States through five entry points on the Arizona border.

She talked about the Sinaloa Cartel, "the granddaddy of them all," and how powerful and violent it is. The Crips and Bloods gangs of Los Angeles aren't even close, she said.

"These are not a bunch of bumbling idiots like I saw in Las Vegas," Kempshall said, referring to her experiences as an undercover DEA agent. "This cartel is very sophisticated. There's a true hierarchy."

The Sinaloa Cartel uses marijuana as its cash crop to fund production and distribution of harder drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, she said.

"I want you to know what the threat is. I want to you know the enemy and the drug cartels that are making our children vulnerable," Kempshall said. "That's why it's so important to tell your children drugs are not the way to go."