FAIRBANKS — Drug counselors say more workers are testing positive for marijuana and more weed is reportedly getting confiscated at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but other feared social ills from decriminalizing marijuana in Alaska have yet to be seen in Fairbanks.
No one went to the emergency room at the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital in 2015 complaining of a marijuana overdose. Also, no child was taken there who had ingested the intoxicating plant, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District reports that so far they’ve seen no increase in students caught bringing marijuana to school, according to Montean Jackson, the Safe and Drug Free Schools coordinator.
Fairbanks International Airport, Border Patrol and Fort Wainwright also reported that the new law decriminalizing personal use of pot on Feb. 24, 2015, caused little or no new problems for their agencies.
“I don’t think it’s really impacted us much,” Fairbanks District Attorney Gregg Olson said last week.
That could change once the state begins licensing marijuana businesses later this year and marijuana edibles, known to be more potent than smoking pot, become mainstream. But, for now, the impacts of more-permissive pot laws in Alaska are limited.
Bill Watson, who runs an outpatient treatment facility for substance abuse, Seven Secrets Counseling, said that probably a handful of his clients tested positive for cannabis in a urine test because they mistakenly thought the new law overrode their workplace anti-drug policies.
Kelly Andaloro, another substance abuse counselor, said she has also noticed an uptick in workers testing positive for marijuana in a workplace drug test.
“Now, when it’s legal, it just gives people that blase blah attitude about it,” she said.
At UAF, Deputy Police Chief Steve Goetz said he thinks marijuana is more widely used on campus than it used to be even though possessing pot is against school policy.
“We get a lot of reports of the odor of marijuana in the dorms now,” Goetz said.
The deputy chief said he frequently comes across groups of people, usually including someone younger than 21, in possessions of cannabis. Like alcohol, pot is illegal for anyone younger than 21.
Goetz said it can be difficult to determine who the marijuana belongs to. Campus police confiscate any cannabis they discover. Previously, anyone caught with pot faced a drugs misconduct charge.
“It’s not as taboo as it used to be,” Goetz said. “When it came to marijuana and marijuana was illegal, there was less of an urge to do it.”
Montean Jackson, who runs the Safe and Drug Free Schools program at the school district, said students bringing pot to school is nothing new.
“It continues to be an on-going problem,” she said. “Every year, we find students on school grounds that are distributing. I don’t think we have big high school drug dealers. I am sure they are getting their contraband at home.
“We haven’t had a significant increase so far this year,” she said. “So far, so good. We have not found any edibles.”
It’s the same situation in North Pole, according to Police Chief Steve Dutra. No change.
“Nothing much has happened,” he said. “But we don’t have any dispensaries open or anything yet.”
Eric Jewkes, deputy chief at the Fairbanks Police Department, said his department hasn’t noticed a problem with public consumption, which surprised him.
“I expected more people to make some political statement about it,” he said.
Once the marijuana stores start opening, Jewkes expects the impacts of marijuana legalization to become more noticeable.
For now, marijuana users are continuing to be discrete.
“It’s been an illegal substance for so long, emotionally, many people still feel like it’s improper,” Jewkes said.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.