Health officials highlight the negatives

Zoe Greszler • Updated Apr 7, 2017 at 10:49 AM

The Huron County board of health will not take a stance in the ongoing debate on whether or not to allow a medical marijuana cultivation facility in Norwalk.

However, the health commissioner found some information that may be useful to those who are forming opinions and casting votes on the matter. 

Health commissioner Tim Hollinger presented related health information on the cultivation facility at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Hollinger said he had three minutes to get across a presentation he could easily have spent 10 times that amount of time on, but wanted to convey the research he was able to compile at the public health board meeting Thursday afternoon. 

For the health board, it is a matter of public safety, as well as legality, for the board’s involvement. 

“The biggest problem you run into is finding reliable information,” Hollinger said. “You can get on the Internet and find information on (medical use of marijuana) and you can read something and that’s what a lot of people were doing. But you need to look at who did the article then look at who paid for the research or the article, because who paid for it generally determines how the information comes out. ... There’s not a lot of (reliable sources) out there.”


It’s still illegal

Marijuana, both in its recreational and its medicinal uses are illegal still from a federal standpoint, which could cause issues when it comes to federally-funded programs and organizations. The health board funds its projects in large part by federal grants.  

“From a federal viewpoint it is illegal,” the health commissioner said.

“So if the FBI or DPA come in they could arrest anyone growing marijuana because they can supersede state law. Banks will be in an interesting position as well. They legally can’t cash those employees’ paychecks, (knowing it’s coming from the federally illegal work).

“We have federal grants. Any organization would have issue because part verbiage of what you sign has to do with federal regulations and drugs, so you could lose the ability to get grants. ... So we have to ask, do we jeopardize federal grants if we respond?”

From the public health standpoint, Hollinger said he was “relieved” by some of his research findings after calling his counterparts in Oregon and Colorado who have dealt with the marijuana cultivation facilities for a couple years.

The health commissioners there reported most of the potentially harmful chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, remain mostly inside the cultivation building, protecting the nearby general public. He said this is made even better by the fact that the facility was looking to purchase a 5-acre piece of land for a football-sized complex, decreasing chances of carbon monoxide issues, according to the commissioner. 

Still, inside the building will be breading grounds for any number of hazards, ranging from molds and fungi to “dangerously high amounts of THC” that could accidentally harm an employee. Another problem comes if the facility is not able to sustain itself in the community and is closed. Dealing with the building could be very dangerous, due to the high levels of mold, fungus and THC. Hollinger said it is likely the building may not be suitable for use thereafter.

“Absolutely we’re going to have mold and fungus issues,” he said.

“If there’s an OSHA issue, this is going to be a hostile issue to work with. There’s going to need to be a lot of PPE in these facilities for employees to work in them. ... (One source found) were looking at how much THC was in on surfaces of this buildings growing the marijuana, and whether the facility had direct contact with plant material or not. Some areas had no contamination (of THC) and other areas that had very, very high levels and were very dangerous. Then we have the problem of how do we get rid of that THC?”


Less monetary gain than expected?

Hollinger said health commissioners in the other states told him there may not be as much money to gain in medicinal marijuana cultivation as some have been portraying.

“There’s been great deal of discussion about the monetary gain for the community. This issued a great deal of laughter from my counterparts because it’s basically a minimum-wage job,” he said. “They said minimum wage to $14 an hour is most prevalent, with the one person making the most money was the grow master — the one in charge facility.”

He said “bud pickers” often times have this as a seasonal-type job as well.


More overdoses?

Then there’s the matter of possible increased number of overdoses as “bud pickers” come in, learn the ropes and leave with a better understanding of successful marijuana growth. Hollinger said the Oregon and Colorado health commissioners said they believe there is a correlation, but don’t have any hard facts to back it up and prove it.

“This part is anecdotal information,” he said. “Not facts yet.”

“There is no data and I can’t believe they haven’t started to track this yet, but they said because of the nature of the low pay, there’s a constant turnover and a lot of growers, growing illegally, come in and learn and turn around and are able to produce a lot of local illegal product. They’re able to create extremely potent marijuana”

“Again, this is not factual, this is their viewpoint,” he said. “But we have to consider it because we can’t take that back once that local population has taken in those techniques.”


Is the gov’t researching pot?

Hollinger said one source reported the government had a plot of land that was used to grow and research marijuana. He said while he didn’t believe it at first, he was surprised to learn it was valid.

“It’s true,” he said. “The government does have a plot of land that is used to grow and research marijuana. No one is privileged to that information though and I’m not sure what they’re testing it for.”

The possibility remains more details may come of the research, answering a lot of the unknowns. 

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