Substance Abuse in South Mississippi Part 1 - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Substance Abuse in South Mississippi Part 1

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Starting Monday in Colorado and Washington state the use of recreational marijuana is legalized. Local officials are speaking out about the drug and the dangers to today's society. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in the United States among adults and teens. It is addictive to one in nine adults and one in six adolescents who use the drug.  The National Association of Drug Court Professionals is taking a stand against marijuana.

"One of the largest drug problems in Mississippi is marijuana. It has been a problem for years and it's only gotten worse over the last several years," says Judge Keith Starrett, federal judge for the U.S. Southern District Court. He's also a member of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. For 20 years he's seen what drugs can do to a person. "Marijuana is a gateway drug it leads people into other drug abuse such as methamphetamine, cocaine things like that."
Starrett says the basis for a lot of crime is linked to drug abuse and marijuana is the "gateway" drug.

For criminals in the re-entry programs, probation officer Amanda Pierce says "pot" is what causes most of her offenders to relapse. "They start with marijuana and then it kind of gets them back to their drug of choice," says Pierce.

But what about medicinal marijuana? It has not been legalized in Mississippi.  "There are medical benefits for certain illnesses in marijuana," says Starrett. The federal judge feels those with HIV AIDS and cancer patients who don't respond to chemotherapy should get help. "You don't have to smoke it, you can get it from a pill or a mouth spray that doesn't get you high," says Starrett.

Jon Richards, from Washington state is looking forward to living a life with less pain, "It fundamentally changed my life. That's why I feel as though I have to do this. Anything would be a distraction."

Starrett says nowadays the use of marijuana has become more socially acceptable, "It sends a message to our people well it's legal some places and it's probably okay so why don't we use it too"

But it doesn't change his views on the illegal drug. "Marijuana is a significantly addictive dangerous drug that should not be used at all," says Starrett.

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