MENOMINEE—Public Health of Menominee and Delta Counties is the force behind a billboard warning about marijuana use recently erected on 10th Street in Menominee, where several marijuana retailers are slated to open next year.
“Marijuana & Alcohol can harm your unborn child,” says the billboard, which is highly visible during the day and illuminated at night.
“I think the placement of the billboard is interesting,” said Jacqueline Nutter, Menominee City Council First Ward representative.
Menominee City Council Fourth Ward Representative Doug Robinson said he supports the sign’s message. “I agree with it. I’m more of a medicinal purpose proponent … I’m not a recreational supporter—never have, never will be,” he said. Marijuana can be helpful to veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome or people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, he said.
Mary Claire Massi-Lee, director of substance abuse services at Public Health, said the county agency received grant funds for advertising, which paid for the billboards, but she didn’t know the cost.
The billboard wasn’t placed where the marijuana stores are slated to open in reaction to the City of Menominee’s ordinance allowing for marijuana retailers, Massi-Lee said. “It had nothing to do with the passing of the ordinance in Menominee. We have the same board in Escanaba even though they held off on that. The board was up there before,” she said.
“We’ve had a few of these up. It’s part of a campaign for fetal alcohol syndrome and marijuana use during pregnancy,” Massi-Lee said. “It’s obviously because of the legalization. Just because something’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good for you while you’re pregnant,” she said.
Marijuana hasn’t been closely studied in pregnant women, said attorney Denise Pollicella, founder and managing partner of Pollicella law firm in Howell, Mich. The firm is representing marijuana retailers NU Group in a lawsuit against the City of Menominee. NU Group did not receive a license for a marijuana store, but Rize and Fire Station Cannabis Co. did. Several companies have sued the City of Menominee over the way it awarded licenses.
“People can put anything on a billboard,” Pollicella said. “What I think considering the fact in large part the drug war anti-marijuana message was largely discounted or eventually ignored or discredited, is that we need to start being very honest in our messaging and our education about it.”
Pollicella said the licensed medical field could do more to provide information on the safe use of marijuana. “Marijuana is not some sort of perfect solution, but I think the fact it can now be regulated, licensed and taxed makes it safer. And that’s what we need. And that’s why I got into this.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, marijuana use during pregnancy may affect the baby’s development, and those who are pregnant should consult their doctors. About 7% of pregnant women reported using marijuana in 2016 and 2017, the CDC’s website said.
One of the major studies the CDC website content relied on is a 2017 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which considered over 10,000 scientific abstracts. It said, “Smoking cannabis during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight in the offspring, some evidence suggests. However, the relationship with other pregnancy and childhood outcomes is unclear.”
Asked why Public Health chose a gender-focused campaign instead of one like driving under the influence, Massi-Lee said Public Health didn’t intend to aim the message at women. “Automatically it’s the woman’s responsibility, but if her partner is doing similar things, she’s more apt to be doing that, too.”
Massi-Lee also said, “There’s probably more injury or deaths due to driving under the influence, but there’s probably—and I know there is—more developmental delays and mental delays because of alcohol during pregnancy.”
Public Health’s campaign on marijuana and alcohol use during pregnancy includes only the billboards and no other communications right now, she said. They’re designed to remind people, “Using marijuana during pregnancy and using alcohol during pregnancy may harm your infant or the baby. The chemicals in the (tetrahydrocannabinol) THC aren’t good and just like alcohol affect the brain during pregnancy,” she said.
Nutter said she was aware consuming alcohol while pregnant could affect the unborn, but she hasn’t read about the effects of marijuana being similar to fetal alcohol syndrome, “so linking them together is pretty interesting to me.”
Research on the CDC website isn’t conclusive about how consumption of marijuana’s active ingredient THC affects unborn children or infants who nurse. Much of the research cited is from years ago.
“There is very little current data on the benefits and risks of marijuana,” Pollicella said, because it’s a controlled substance and still illegal on the federal level. “You have to get special permission to study it,” she said.
Another study the article cited found using marijuana and tobacco did have an effect. “Compared with nonusers, marijuana users experienced similar rates of perinatal, but had somewhat higher stillbirth rates. The latter finding should be interpreted with caution because these results could not be adjusted for tobacco use,” one study said, noting that many marijuana users also smoke tobacco.
Several studies focused on the effects of marijuana smoke and drew similarities to smoking tobacco, but some marijuana users consume the drug in the form of edibles, which don’t involve smoking.
“Marijuana smoke contains many of the same respiratory disease-causing and carcinogenic toxins as tobacco smoke, often in concentrations several times greater than in tobacco smoke,” according to one study cited in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ opinion.
Another research study from 1989 focused on animals indicates the active ingredient in marijuana—tetrahydrocannabinol or THC—crosses the placenta and produces fetal plasma levels about one-tenth the maternal level after “acute exposure.” But how that level affects the unborn wasn’t described.
Regardless of what you tend to believe, most agree the sign doesn’t encourage marijuana use.
That’s fine with council member Robinson. “What I purposely don’t want is for the significant reason to come here is for recreational marijuana. I don’t want that,” he said. “It’s going to be here. We should limit it.”