Marijuana Boot Camp talks about impact of the drug on communities

ONALASKA, Wis. (WEAU) -- 70 people from around the community gathered for a day filled with learning about the dangers of marijuana.

The 'Marijuana Boot Camp' from the La Crosse Prevention Network hopes to educate community members about the effects of marijuana.

"So what we're seeing here locally is that the perception of harm goes down, it increases the use rates of marijuana, so again it's accessible and it seems like it's a safe or harmless drug," said Health Educator Judi Zabel.

Currently 29 states, plus Washington D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, but Wisconsin is not one of them.

According to the La Crosse County Prevention Network, half of overdose deaths in La Crosse county have marijuana present in their system.

Tony Coder, from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, led Friday's boot camp, which is just one stop in his travels across the country talking to groups about the potential impact legalizing marijuana may have on their community.

"We don't want to go in uneducated about what we're talking about in such an important public health discussion. So we look at things like increases in drug driving, we look at increases in youth use also the impacts on mental health," said Coder.

In 2015, there were more than 400 reported cases of individuals hospitalized because of marijuana. The next leading group of drugs tallied 150 less cases, according to the La Crosse Prevention Network.

"People always say the marijuana is a benign substance and it doesn't cause any harm. That's not the truth and again that's what we think of when we think back to the '60's, '70's and '80's but today's potency, it's not the same drug that we remember, it's not the same as back in the day," said Zabel.

In February, a bill was introduced that would legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin, which some health officials say is not the path they want for the state.

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