While the legalization of marijuana has led to many benefits for patients in need, it also spun out a number of bad effects like substance abuse. Not uncommon in the state of Colorado, substance abuse has caused a lot of accidents throughout the years. Maria Loya, Director and Owner of La Trenza Counseling, Inc. in Commerce City Colorado, strongly believes that marijuana substance abuse should not be taken lightly. In this episode, Maria talks about the fatalities caused by people who are under the influence of cannabis and how she is planning to make marijuana strictly medical. Guiding others to recovery, she further explains in detail helping users who are trying to get out of that vicious cycle.
Listen to the podcast here:
Legalization Of Cannabis: The Effects After Six Years With Maria Loya
Maria Loya is the Director and Owner of La Trenza Counseling Center in Commerce City, Colorado since 2006. She is a bilingual, Spanish-focused family therapist. She is also an addiction counselor with over 26 years of experience working with individuals, groups and families. She has worked at schools, women shelters, outpatient and in-patient facilities. She strongly believes in focusing on authentic relationships, promoting freedom and growth. In the past, she has struggled with anxiety, depression, trauma, self-esteem, stress, relationship issues, relational conflict, substance abuse, multicultural diversity issues, growth and development.
These struggles had helped here to become a top performer in her industry. She also has training in motivation interviewing, therapeutic groups and crisis intervention. At La Trenza, they believe that everyone is meant to grow and succeed in life. Their passion is helping others identify the things that can stand in their way of becoming successful. Please welcome, Maria.
I have Maria Loya here and we’re discussing medical marijuana and how it’s affected the state of Colorado. She’s a substance abuse counselor so I thought, “What better person to talk to about how the first recreational state is doing since they’re the furthest along throughout the US.” Maria, thanks for being here.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here with you.
I know you’ve got quite a bit of experience in the field. When legalization was on the docket in 2012, did you even realize that it was happening at the time? Were you aware of what was going on in Colorado?
Yes, I was aware. At that moment, I thought it was going to be a big mess because now we’re going to have more people driving under the influence of marijuana.
It’s interesting to see what’s happened in our state and the way things have changed or some things haven’t changed much. Some for the better and there are some negatives behind it. I wanted to see what does Maria think, from her patients and stuff that she’s seen over the last several years of the legalization in the state of Colorado.
We’re definitely seeing a lot more clients in our agency who are getting arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana. Before, we used to work with a lot more who were under the influence of alcohol. Now we’re seeing a lot more under the influence of marijuana. They’re getting DWAI which is Driving While Ability Impaired. It definitely has grown in that area.
You’re seeing less driving under the influence or is it still about the same or are you seeing more or less of that?
We’re still seeing the same, but we have an increase of people who are driving under the influence of marijuana.
That tells me that they’re enforcing it. The laws are being enforced.
Yes, although there’s still a lot of people who are driving under the influence of marijuana. They still haven’t found ways to correctly make sure they’re under the influence or not of marijuana.
Do you mean by testing?Help those that you know want to get helped and treated. Click To Tweet
Yes, testing-wise. There’s a lot of people who are smoking and driving.
I haven’t seen some in the past, but I have seen people walking down the streets and smoking a joint and stuff like that. That’s definitely becoming a little more common. I know the state has been working on some stuff, but there’s really no safe or regulated place to consume at this point. I’ve seen a lot of it and talk about it. There’s some licensing stuff happening where they’re trying to go, but there’s nowhere we can smoke legally.
People are going to do what they want to do. It’s like drinking. Before, you were seeing people drinking at the parks and parties. Now, you see people smoking in parks and parties and everywhere they can. You can go to a 7/11 or any convenience store and you’ll smell people who smell heavily of marijuana.
You’re right. It’s becoming a bit more common. Do you see on your day to day that your safety has changed at all with marijuana being legal?
If they’re smoking and driving at the same time, that can be dangerous. Sometimes you’ll see somebody smoking their bongs or their pipes and that definitely puts the rest of us in danger or they’re driving too slow.
There are some consumption stuffs that’s happening and this will free this up. One thing that I noticed is when we passed recreational in 2012, the funny part about that was when all these people are coming to our state. They’re recreationally picking this up. They’re not aware of what’s going on and they have no safe place to consume. I’ve been watching this unfold and happen but it’s not moving fast. If you want to drink, you go to a bar. That can cause issues of consuming and driving. Do you see the future of us having consumption areas like bars or something similar to hookah bars? What might those look like?
Definitely, especially now that we’re having more states that are legalizing marijuana. That’s an industry that’s going to get even bigger than what it already is. I do see restaurants and bars that are going to focus on that. It’s going to grow and we’re going to have more people who are going to be under the influence. We do have a couple of places where people go out but it’s mainly edibles.
The testing part is interesting. I’ve been trying to create and think about some opportunities that are for the business owner and the entrepreneur. Some of those come along with the testing side. Do you know what they’re testing for? How are they doing their testing for driving while under the influence of cannabis? Do you know what they’re doing?
They’re doing similar things. They’re doing the sobriety and smell. We all know what marijuana smells like.
When you say sobriety, do you mean the field testing?
Yes. With marijuana, it’s like alcohol. When you open your window and you can smell whether somebody’s been drinking in that vehicle or not. With marijuana, it’s the same thing.
They do field testing. Let’s say they failed the field testing. If anybody’s seen any a cop on a Friday night pulling somebody over and watching them touch their nose and counting, that’s what I’m assuming the field testing is. I don’t know how that relates to marijuana, but they have to have something. What happens to the person after going through that process? Let’s say they failed and the cop decides that he wants to arrest them. What happens to him?
He gets arrested and they’ll either take them to detox or they’ll take them to jail. They get a ticket for a DWAI or DUI depending. They go to court and then the court decides whether they get the DUI or DWAI.
Do you think that they have a standard in place for figuring out whether the person is intoxicated with cannabis or they were high two days ago? If they have the smell in their car doesn’t mean they’re in the influence right now.
You’re not supposed to smoke in your car. It’s like drinking. You’re not supposed to drink in your car. They can give you a ticket for an open container. If you’re going to smoke, you need to do it in your home.
I’ve been in a lot of grow houses and I’ve also been around it quite a bit in the past. You smell it whether or not you’re smoking. If it’s in the car, it’s in the car. Do you think there’s some opportunity for folks out there that are interested in creating a better way of testing?
Most definitely. That person would be doing good if they create something that can test for it like what they do with breathalyzers and trying to figure out what your BAC levels are.
What other testing do they use for other substances that you know could possibly translate to the cannabis industry? Is there anything else out there that you know that could be similar to use for testing or could they potentially use the same practices?
What they’re doing is, they search your car and if they found marijuana, they automatically assume you’ve been smoking it or using it.
That’s how they prove it?
They’ll ask you questions and most of the time people will be honest. They’ll say, “I smoked now.” Lots of people don’t know that you can get a DWAI because you were smoking marijuana. There are also medical marijuana and people would try to argue, “It’s my medicine.” If it’s medication, it tells you on your bottles that you’re not supposed to drive any type of machinery if you’re under the influence of any type of medication. It’s the same thing with the marijuana industry.
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I don’t think the state of Colorado was ready for what they were going to get once they legalized marijuana recreation wise. You’re right, we have lots of people who are coming from other states before when it was medical marijuana. Now that it’s recreational, the flow of people coming into the state of Colorado made it even harder to detect whether who’s under the influence on who’s not.
Have you seen an increase in other illicit drugs since medical marijuana and recreational marijuana has been legalized? If you have, what have you seen an increase in?
Methamphetamines and heroin.
Do you know why that is?
We work in Commerce City so we have a lot of people who are using heroin, unfortunately.
That’s right outside of Denver.
That’s growing again. It’s not the people who are at war, it’s the younger generation.
It seems that could be a part of the opioid stuff or is that completely different?
It can be because, unfortunately, most of the clients who are using heroin or methamphetamines heavily don’t last in agencies. If they violate probation, they go back to jail or they go to jail because they’re using so much of it.
It sounds like they get caught up in the system a lot and they keep going through the same thing.
Most of them don’t want to stop using or can’t in some cases. We have a few clients who are using methamphetamines daily and the withdrawals that they were having are horrible. They’re not using but they are on probation.
Are there many users who are trying to get out of that vicious cycle? Are they using cannabis to help them out at all? What else are they using to try to fight their withdrawals?
Unfortunately, sometimes when you’re on probation, it’s no tolerance. You’re not supposed to use anything.
They’re left with little help then?
That makes a lot more sense.
Also, remember, a lot of the funding ended. A good example is the Arapahoe House. They lost a lot of funding for people who are trying to recover.
What is the Arapahoe House?
Arapahoe House was a place where they focused on people who were using drugs and alcohol. They had lots of programs in place that were free to help people get off of drugs.
Let’s go back to the cannabis side of this. When somebody is arrested for DWAI, do they rehabilitate them? Do they fine them? How does this part work if somebody was to get convicted for a misdemeanor or for driving while under the influence?
Some of them lose their licenses for a year or a certain number of months. They get put on probation for a year or two, depending on the situation. They are required to do DUI treatment. In other cases, sometimes they’re required to do more by the court systems. The majority of them, if they comply with everything the court system requires them to do, they get their license back.
At this point, they’re not trying to treat cannabis. Is cannabis something that somebody is addicted to? Being a drug and alcohol counselor, you see enough of addiction. Is that a part of their process sometimes?It's not a deal to be an alcoholic. It's what you do while you're under the influence. Click To Tweet
They’re required to do drug and alcohol treatment or DUI treatment. If you get arrested, you get convicted and put on probation, then you have to do DUI treatment. There are two different entities. The Department of Motor Vehicle, the ones who decide how long you lose your license for and they have another set of requirements that you need to do before you can get your license back.
Since cannabis has become legal, do you find that it’s made your job harder, easier or do you feel comfortable with the choice that Colorado has made recreation-wise with cannabis?
People are going to use regardless of whether it’s legal or not. We do see an increase of DWAI for being under the influence of marijuana, but people are going to use them regardless.
Do you think that they’re looking for more now that they know that’s legal?
Yes. It’s like alcohol when you turn 21. What’s the first thing you do?
You go get a drink at midnight when you turn 21. I remember.
It’s the same thing with marijuana. It’s legal and they tell you and so is alcohol, but you still are not supposed to do certain things.
It seems that there’s a lot of opportunity on the testing side, especially if you were to come up with a guideline for people for when they could drive. This is way above my pay grade but for those scientists, PhDs and smart guys out there, if you could figure out a system like a breathalyzer that you blow into, even if it was a prick on your finger and it tested your blood, it seems there’d be a huge opportunity for that. Are you seeing fatalities from the people that are under the influence of cannabis? Do you hear anything about that?
Not really. We’re still going to hear a lot more when it comes to being under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol impairs and so does marijuana, but alcohol is always going to be the one on top. As far as marijuana, yes, we’ve had clients who’ve gotten into car accidents. That’s more of them trying to focus on smoking and driving at the same time.
The experiment we have going on in Colorado has changed Denver for sure. I definitely understand that we’ve got a lot more resources in the system. Are they helping companies out like you with any type of long-term training or are they adding anything to this system of the curriculum because of it?
I don’t know. As you probably have heard, people are asking what’s going on with the taxes and what are they doing with it? I’m not sure because I don’t work in that area, so I don’t know what is going on. I don’t know if you might know what’s going on.
I know that you can search for it online. I had a friend ask me about it and I researched it. They can show you where the dollars are going to. I don’t know at the end of the day if you guys saw any of that benefit. There’s a significant amount of dollars that are going towards education. You see the billboards around town and stuff like that. We’ve got this whole thing where psychedelics and stuff are looking at micro dosing. That’s another one that I’m sure you’re going to probably see some more of. I appreciate you taking a few minutes with me here and sharing your thoughts out there. If you’ve never consumed cannabis and you’re going to any state, whether it is in Colorado or not, what could you tell the readers to be careful for when they’re out there? You’ve seen a lot happen in your time on drugs of many types. If you’re experimenting and you’ve got somebody that’s new to it, what would you say to somebody that was going to try cannabis?
Do not experiment at all but if you’re going to experiment, be careful where you get it. If you get it off of a street or by a friend, it could be laced with something. It could be laced with meth or cocaine. Be careful where you get it from. That’s being responsible. It’s like alcohol. Be careful how you mix your alcohol.
That’s a great point. That’s why we’re regulating it is because of this reason. It’s safety first. If it’s a couple of bucks more, it’s not that much more money to buy it straight through a store. There is a lot of people that make their living off the illicit market too. If we truly want this program and process to proceed, we should go through the regulated market.
Also, do it responsibly. It’s not illegal. I tell clients that it’s not illegal to be an alcoholic. It’s what you do while you’re under the influence. We have people who prefer to drink. When I used to work with the homeless population, we were trying to help them and some of them would say, “I don’t want to have neighbors. I want to drink.” When I worked with that agency, we help many of them get into housing but there are some who prefer not to. That’s their lifestyle. That’s how they want it. Some want to and some don’t. I believe in helping those that want to be helped. Plus, a lot of them have mental health issues but that’s a whole different story. I used to work with an agency that tried hard to help them with their mental health issues, medications, if they needed housing and also with treatment if they need treatment. If they want to stop drinking or using drugs, that’s a big one. We need to help those who need and want treatment.
Those are all good points. Especially if you are trying cannabis for the first time, be aware of what else is in your system. I wonder if everybody thinks that way. I want to share that with you guys. Be aware of what you have in your system, whether you’re taking some prescription medication as well because it can all react to itself. Maria, I appreciate you being here with me and thanks for talking with my readers.
I hope to see you sometime down the road. Hopefully, we can have another discussion.
About La Trenza Counseling, Inc.
La Trenza Counseling Inc is a private health care system providing the highest quality professional treatment to those suffering from chemical dependency and to those whose lives are impacted by the disease of addiction. Services are provided to diverse populations using the latest innovations in evidence-based practices in a caring and respectful environment. Exceptional customer service, community education and fiscal responsibility are our priorities.
La Trenza Counseling Inc provides outpatient services to those suffering from alcohol and/or substance abuse issues. Our outpatient programs address the addiction and provide education and counseling to the family members as well.